Syria protests: Bashar al-Assad lifts emergency law

Boys hold a banner during a demonstration in the Syrian port city of Baniyas on 17 April 2011 The Syrian authorities are trying to quell an unprecedented wave of demonstrations

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has signed decrees ending 48 years of emergency rule.

The move was a formality after the government passed a law lifting emergency rule two days ago.

The repeal of the emergency law was a key demand of protesters. It abolishes state security courts and allows citizens to protest peacefully.

But prominent opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh said the move was "useless", reported Reuters news agency.

He said an independent judiciary and accountability for security apparatuses was needed to make the move a meaningful one.

Thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets to demand new political freedoms over recent weeks, inspired by uprisings around the Arab world.

Rights groups say more than 200 people have been killed.

In Thursday's historic decrees, according to state TV and the Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana), President Assad:

  • Lifted the 1962 emergency law
  • Enacted a new law legalising peaceful demonstration
  • Abolished the state security courts

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones, who is watching events from neighbouring Lebanon, says people will have to wait and see what the government intentions are.

Sana reports that protests will still have to be approved by the interior ministry.

Start Quote

It is not the state of emergency that fires on people”

End Quote Abdel Halim Khaddam Exiled former Syrian vice president

Opposition activists have called for mass protests across the country after Friday prayers. If people do turn out, our correspondent says, it will be an early test of the government's intentions.

Our correspondent says Syrians are also watching to see whether the government falls back on other laws, such as anti-terrorism legislation.

Move dismissed

Rights activist Ammar Qurabi welcomed the move, but told Reuters other measures must follow, such as the release of prisoners detained during the unrest.

But the move was dismissed by Mr Maleh.

"The problem is that the ruling elite and the security have put their hands on the judiciary, and that other legislation they had introduced exempted the security forces from being held accountable to law," he told Reuters.

Abdel Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president based in Paris who became one of the most trenchant critics of Mr Assad's regime, told BBC Arabic: "The crisis in Syria has nothing to do with the presence or absence of the state of emergency.

"It is not the state of emergency that arrests people and takes them to jail and it is not the state of emergency that fires on people," Mr Khaddam said.

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