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Syria announces plan to lift emergency law as EU condemns violence

Syria said it planned to lift its emergency law on Sunday, news agencies report, a day after the European Union strongly condemned Damascus for the rising death toll amid growing unrest there.

Protesters in the street

Protesters want an end to years of authoritarian rule

Syria said it was preparing to lift its emergency law a day after the European Union's Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed her concern about the rising death toll in Syria.

Violence has continued to flare as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ruling Baath Party come under unprecedented political pressure, with wildly conflicting reports on the number of fatalities.

The authoritarian regime had announced a series of reforms on Thursday, including the release of activists detained during the recent unrest and the possibility that emergency rule - in force since 1963 - might be brought to an end.

An adviser to Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, told the news network Al-Jazeera on Sunday that the emergency law that gives far-reaching powers to security forces would be lifted, without giving a timetable.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 17 activists were released after they had been detained for protesting in front of the Interior Ministry in the capital Damascus on March 16.

Catherine Ashton

Ashton said despite reforms, violent repression was continuing

The protests, which began on March 15, have resulted in the deaths of 27 people according to official figures, 20 of whom were protesters.

Activists claimed on Saturday that 25 people had been killed in violence on the previous day alone, with some figures putting the total number of dead in the country at 126.

Ashton had demanded an end to the violence and called for dialogue as well as political, social and economic reform.

"I strongly condemn the brutal repression, including the totally unacceptable use of violence and live ammunition, which must cease now," she said on Saturday.

Rooftop snipers shoot to kill

In Saturday's violence, activists said two people had been killed in the port city of Latakia with four others killed on Friday.

Protesters blamed snipers acting on behalf of security forces while - on its website - the Syrian state news agency SANA described the culprits as "an armed group."

A protester in the street with an object burning near to him

Protests have turned violent in cities like Daraa

Meanwhile, in and around the southern city of Deraa, human rights group Amnesty International says at least 55 people are believed to have been killed during the week. Troops are accused of opening fire without provocation on a group of demonstrators in the city on Wednesday.

On Saturday, angry residents of Tafas, near Deraa, mourners at the funeral of a protesters killed the previous day, set ablaze a police station and Baath Party office.

The Baath Party has been in power for almost 50 years, with Assad in power for the last 11. In its biggest concession yet the government announced Saturday that it had freed 260 political detainees.

Strife next door

In neighboring Jordan, the country's Islamist opposition and trade unions called for Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit to leave office after violence that killed one person and left more than 130 injured.

Meanwhile in Yemen, six weeks of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh appear to be starting to have an effect on the country's leader.

Speaking at a rally of supporters on Friday, Saleh said he would be ready to concede power to avoid more bloodshed a week after 50 demonstrators were killed by gunmen.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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