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Syria 'will lift political curbs'

The Syrian government has pledged to consider lifting tough curbs on political freedoms in an attempt to quell an uprising which protesters say has left dozens shot dead by security forces.

Presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban told reporters in the capital, Damascus, that President Bashar Assad's government would consider lifting a state of emergency, in place since 1963. It allows people to be arrested without warrants and imprisoned without trial.

She said the government was drafting a law that would allow political parties besides the ruling Baath party.

It is also raising salaries for public servants and looking at better ways to fight corruption, she said.

The pledges appeared unlikely to satisfy protesters in the southern city of Daraa, where thousands called for liberty in defiance of a deadly government crackdown as they took to the streets in funeral marches for protesters killed by police gunfire.

Media access to the marches was restricted but an Associated Press reporter heard sporadic bursts of gunfire echoing through the city.

Almost all shops were shuttered, the streets were virtually empty and soldiers and anti-terrorism police stopped people at checkpoints and manned many intersections - the heaviest security presence since the unrest began.

An activist, who is in contact with residents of Daraa, said that massive crowds shouted "Syria, freedom!" as they marched toward one of the agricultural hub's main cemeteries.

Others in Daraa held a sit-in in the al-Mahata neighbourhood to protest the killing of residents in clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters, the activist said.

Inspired by the wave of pro-democracy protests around the region, the uprising in Daraa and at least four nearby villages has become the biggest domestic challenge since the 1970s to the Syrian government, one of the most repressive in the Middle East. Security forces have responded with water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.


From Belfast Telegraph