Syrian Activists Press Protests Despite Reform Pledge


Syrian activists vowed to push on with rallies against "injustice and repression" on Friday after weekly Muslim prayers, dismissing reform pledges announced by the authorities.

Facebook group The Syria Revolution 2011, which has attracted almost 78,000 fans, called for "Day of Dignity" rallies Friday at mosques across Syria, after a week of deadly protests in the south.

"We will continue to protest on Friday against injustice and repression in Daraa and throughout the country," a statement on the site said.

"We will continue to demand freedom through peaceful protests until our demands are met."

The call comes despite an announcement in Damascus Thursday night by presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban that the ruling Baath party had agreed to study the lifting of emergency laws in force since 1963.

Shaaban also announced a string of other reforms, including pay rises for state employees and possible licensing of political parties.

"Under a directive by President Bashar al-Assad, all those detained in recent events have been freed," state television reported.

London-based rights group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the release of all detainees arrested in Daraa, a tribal city 100 kilometers south of Damascus that has emerged as the hub of the demonstrations.

Syria, the latest Middle Eastern country to witness an uprising against a long-running autocratic regime, has been hit by unprecedented protests demanding major change after almost five decades of rule by the Alawite-controlled Baath party.

The demonstrations began this month in Damascus but have been largely contained in the capital.

They broke out in force instead in Daraa, where activists reported more than 100 people killed on Wednesday alone in clashes with security forces.

After Thursday's announcements, pro-Assad demonstrators immediately took to the streets of Damascus, honking their horns and waving Syrian flags as well as pictures of the president and his father, Hafez al-Assad, who came to power in 1970.

But in Daraa, people flooded into the streets after the speech rejecting the announcement as more of the same unfulfilled promises by the Baath party and chanted slogans such as "freedom, we would sacrifice our blood and souls for you martyrs," said a resident.

Lawyer and activist Issa al-Masalmeh, 70, reached by telephone in Daraa, said the pledges if fulfilled would answer some of the long-held demands of the opposition.

"Our peaceful movement will continue because we cannot simply rely on promises," said Masalmeh, who was among those released after four days in jail.

"Easy promises are not enough, we want tangible measures."

Presidential adviser Shaaban, who described protesters' demands as "just", on Thursday put the Daraa death toll during the week at 10.

She said Assad had chaired a Baath meeting which agreed to look into a new media law granting "greater transparency and freedom" and was forming a committee to discuss with Daraa residents the week's events and to sanction those responsible.

"There are some demands and we will respond to these demands. Some of it will be very quickly. Some of it might take time and discussions.

"If there is a legitimate demand by the people then the authorities will take it seriously, but if somebody wants to just cause trouble then it is a different story," she warned.