Protests in Syria's Daraa city; political prisoners freed
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the southern Syrian city of Daraa Saturday, while the government ordered the release of scores of political prisoners, DPA reported.
A Syrian human rights activist told the German Press Agency dpa on Saturday that the government had released more than 200 political prisoners.
President Bashar al-Assad ordered the release of all those detained amid the recent unrest, as part of reforms promised by the government.
There has been a violent crackdown on protesters over the past week in Daraa. On Saturday, protesters there burnt down offices of the ruling Baath Party, according to a post on the Facebook page of Youth Syria for Freedom.
The post also said that some army officers, most of whom are from Daraa, resigned in protest over the violence against protesters.
At least 55 people are believed to have been killed during a week of unrest in and around Daraa, Amnesty International said, but the circumstances of most of the deaths remained unclear.
"The authorities reply harshly to peaceful demonstrations calling for freedom and dignity, as if they want to intimidate the Syrians again," said opposition writer Fayez Sara.
The protests took place as Baath Party leaders convened for their second meeting in three days. State television reported that "some important decisions will be taken, among them the release of more political prisoners and a change in the government's portfolios."
Assad's promises included higher salaries and discussing an end to the emergency law, which has been in effect since 1963.
Presidential advisor Buthaina Shaaban said Saturday that Damascus is ready to discuss any demand as long as it serves the country's interests.
Assad's efforts at appeasement have only been met with growing calls for his ouster. The protests continued across Syria as the opposition dismissed the president's moves.
"And where are the 16,000 prisoners jailed over 30 years? Your empty promises will not deceive the people. We will continue until our demands are met," activists wrote on the Facebook page of Syrian Revolution 2011.