Lebanese political prisoners to be freed by Syria

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The Independent Online

The Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has ordered the release of 600 political prisoners and proposed an easing of the country's strict criminal code, officials said yesterday.

The Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has ordered the release of 600 political prisoners and proposed an easing of the country's strict criminal code, officials said yesterday.

Those to be freed included some Lebanese as well as Syrian detainees, who belonged to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group and other parties. The number of Lebanese involved has not been revealed but opposition parties in the country said it could be 100.

The release was part of Mr Assad's programme of political reform, as well as a goodwill gesture towards Lebanon, where Syria, the main foreign power broker, has 35,000 troops, political sources said. The Lebanese were arrested for allegedly attacking Syrian troops in Lebanon or spying for Israel, the sources said.

Mr Assad, 34, promised wide political, economic and administrative reforms in July when he succeeded his father, Hafez al-Assad, who died in June after a 30-year rule.

Mr Assad's draft law provides for a general amnesty for non-political crimes including violation of the conscription law, traffic offences, smuggling of substances except for narcotics, and armed resistance to police. It would also reduce prison terms for economic crimes by one-third, officials said.

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