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Army moves to quash Syrian unrest

Syria's army has been out in force in a port city scarred by unrest aimed at symbols of the government, which is struggling to put down an unprecedented nationwide outbreak of protest and dissent.

President Bashar Assad's regime has responded by both shooting dead protesters, and promising reform.

A lawmaker said he expected President Assad to soon announce that he was lifting a nearly 50-year state of emergency. The timing remained unclear.

Syria has been rocked by more than a week of anti-government demonstrations that began in a drought-parched southern agricultural city and exploded nationwide on Friday. Security forces have opened fire on demonstrators in at least six places, leading to dozens of deaths.

Member of Parliament Mohammed Habash said lawmakers expected to receive a memo from the president laying out a plan to end the state of emergency.

The state of emergency has been in force since Assad's Baath party took power on March 8, 1963. It lets the government detain suspects without trial and exercise strict control over the media.

Some of the worst violence appears to have taken place in Latakia, a Mediterranean coastal city that is a mix of Sunnis in its urban core, members of Assad's Alawite branch of Shiite Islam living in villages on the outskirts, and small minorities of Christians, ethnic Turks and other groups.

Witnesses said that large, religiously mixed crowds took to the streets of Latakia on Friday to express sympathy with protesters in the southern city of Deraa and demand greater civil liberties and political freedoms and an end to official corruption.

Shooting erupted that protesters blame on security forces, and unrest erupted that continued until yesterday. Syrian officials said the government moved the army into Latakia in heavy numbers.

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