CAIRO – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tried to retain control of his protest-roiled nation on Sunday, sending troops to the site of recent clashes and promising through subordinates to eliminate a controversial emergency law used to detain dissidents without trial.
A presidential adviser said on Sunday that al-Assad would address the nation on state television “within 24 to 48 hours.” The president has largely remained out of view since his forces first fired on unarmed protesters in the southern city of Dara on March 18. The death toll from such clashes has climbed past 60.
Al-Assad’s remarks were expected to detail his pledge to remove the 1963 emergency law, which strictly limits Syrians’ ability to assemble or voice opposition to the regime. The government on Thursday first signaled a willingness to relax the law, but it did not say when. The pledge failed to stem widespread protests.
Army troops were sent on Sunday to the small coastal city of Latakia, the site of the latest clashes with protesters. Government officials blamed “armed gangs” for violence there. News reports said six people have died and more than 100 have been injured.
In Damascus on Sunday, citizens received text messages from the government warning them not to go to Umaweyeen Square, where security forces apparently believed protesters would re-emerge.
The city buzzed with reports about detained foreigners, including Muhammad Bakr Radwan, a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen who was accused of selling photographs to international outlets.