Syrian protesters torch offices

Protesters against the government of Syria set fire to offices of the ruling party today while hundreds of political prisoners were released in a bid to appease the rioters.

Presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told reporters that demonstrators attacked a police station and offices of the Baath party in the town of Tafas, six miles (10km) north of the city of Daraa, epicentre of more than a week of anti-government protests.



The Baath party offices in the Mediterranean city of Latakia had also been targeted.



This afternoon, President Bashar Assad pulled back police and soldiers from Daraa and released hundreds of political prisoners in an attempt to appease demonstrators furious about the violent government crackdown on dissent.



Daraa has been the centre of protests, with more than a week of demonstrations leading to nationwide unrest yesterday when tens of thousands of protesters marched in cities across the country.



Abdul-Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian Human Rights League, said that 260 political prisoners had been released.



He said that most of those released were Islamists and 14 Kurdish detainees were also let free. Most had been imprisoned at Saidnaya, a prison in a Damascus suburb that houses political detainees. He said no further details were immediately available and there was no official confirmation.



Mr Rihawi called the move a "positive step" and urged authorities to release all political detainees.



Britain has condemned the violence in Syria with Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt saying that he was "deeply concerned" by the use of force in Deraa.



He said in a statement: "I have been watching closely the situation in Syria, and am deeply concerned by the use of force against demonstrators.



"I condemn the violence that has resulted in a large number of deaths in Deraa. All Syrians have a right to express their views peacefully.



"I call on the Syrian government to respect the people's right to peaceful protest and to address their legitimate grievances.



"I call for restraint on all sides but in particular from the Syrian security forces. Violence is never the right answer to these situations."



Mr Burt noted that one of President Bashar Assad's advisers had said that the government was looking for political reform.



"I call on the Syrian government to implement these proposals without delay and to engage peacefully on the legitimate demands of the Syrian people, who will be looking for action to back up such statements," he said.



Amnesty International said at least 55 people are believed to have been killed during unrest in and around Deraa in the past week.



This is in addition to those killed in different parts of the country yesterday.



Philip Luther, deputy director for Middle East and North Africa, said: "The excessive force apparently again being used by security forces is the latest example of the Syrian authorities' appalling and brutal response to recent dissent, and make their pledge to investigate the violence sound rather hollow.



"If the words we heard from the Syrian government are to mean anything, they must immediately issue clear orders to restrain the security forces to prevent further loss of life."



The authorities on Thursday pledged to carry out reforms.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links