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New Cabinet in Syria backs wide reforms

Wed., April 20, 2011

BEIRUT – Syria’s newly appointed Cabinet endorsed reforms Tuesday that appear to broaden civil liberties in the highly restricted one-party state, an attempt to stave off a burgeoning protest movement that threatens President Bashar Assad’s regime.

But in a sign of possible discord within the ruling elite, the security forces continued a violent crackdown on protesters and warned Syrians “to refrain from any mass rallies or demonstrations or sit-ins under any title,” the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

The combined warning and concession came hours after at least three protesters were slain by security forces in the city of Homs. Hundreds of people reportedly have been killed in recent weeks during protests inspired by democracy movements across the Middle East.

Activists showed little sign of being impressed by the Cabinet’s proposals to lift a 48-year-old state of emergency that restricts civil liberties, abolish a powerful security court and regulate political gatherings. Fresh protests reportedly broke out in Damascus, the Syrian capital, Baniyas and Latakia.

If enacted and implemented, the Cabinet proposals could bring sweeping change to the structure of the Syrian state, which has been dominated for decades by the president, his late father Hafez Assad and their Baath Party loyalists. The 45-year-old ruler, who publicly requested the changes at a meeting Saturday, must still sign the laws.

SANA, the official news agency, reported that the proposals would end a state of emergency imposed in 1963 and abolish the 43-year-old High State Security Court, which has the authority to try and sentence defendants in secret. The changes would allow for peaceful protests “as one of basic human rights guaranteed by the Syrian constitution.”

The Cabinet also asked government officials to draft laws allowing and regulating opposition political parties, which are currently banned, as well as changing rules that limit media, which are now tightly controlled.


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