Syria offers reforms to calm violence

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The Independent Online

After a week of uprisings Syria's government has said it will consider lifting some of the most repressive laws in the Middle East.

Despite President Bashar al-Assad's pledge to consider reforms, witnesses said thousands of protesters were massed near the Omari mosque in the centre of Daraa, chanting "freedom, revolution".

A hospital official in the southern city said at least 37 people had been shot dead on Wednesday by security forces. At least six people were killed yesterday in the mosque, which the forces had occupied. As they withdrew later in the day, the protesters came back, setting off fireworks and sounding car horns.

"We will not forget the martyrs of Daraa," a resident told Associated Press by telephone. "If they think this will silence us they are wrong."

The country's harsh emergency laws allow people to be arrested without warrants and imprisoned without trial. Human rights groups say violations of other basic liberties are rife in Syria, with torture and abuse common in police stations, detention centres and prisons.

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