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October 23, 2021

Syria lifts emergency laws as clashes intensify

Security forces fire on demonstrators in Homs, Washington denies accusations of trying to overthrow al-Assad’s rule.

DAMASCUS – Syria’s government has passed a bill lifting the country’s emergency laws, which have been in place for 48 years, according to Al Jazeera. Tuesday’s move is a key demand of pro-reform demonstrators who have been holding protests across the country for weeks. A senior lawyer said Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, was yet to sign the legislation, but that his signature was a formality. According to the country’s official SANA news agency the government also abolished the state security court, which handled the trials of political prisoners, and approved a new law allowing the right to peaceful protests.

Meanwhile, clashes intensified as Syrian security forces opened fire to disperse a mass anti-government protest in the country’s third-largest city of Homs, witnesses have said, according to the BBC. Hours after the interior ministry warned it would not tolerate an “armed insurrection”, security forces swarmed into a main square in Homs before dawn. One protester told the BBC he had seen someone shot dead.  Activists say about 200 Syrians have died in weeks of unrest. At least 5,000 demonstrators occupied Clock Square in Homs on Monday after mass funerals for about 12 protesters slain by security forces at the weekend. Activists stocked up on supplies and set up checkpoints around the square to ensure people coming in were unarmed civilians.

The crackdown came hours after the interior ministry warned that unrest in Homs and in the northern city of Baniyas amounted to an “armed insurrection” by Salafist groups. It said in a statement late on Monday that “terrorist activities will not be tolerated”. Salafism is a strict form of Sunni Islam which many Arab governments equate with militant groups like al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the US State Department denied seeking to undermine the regime of al-Assad, despite the revelation in diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks that it is financing groups seeking to overthrow him, according to CNN.  The cables, first reported by the Washington Post, reveal the State Department disbursed at least USD 6 M for anti-government programs inside Syria, with the money going to a group of Syrian exiles, living in London, called the Movement for Justice and Development.

Gulf nations meet to ease unrest in Yemen

Meanwhile yesterday, foreign ministers of Persian Gulf nations met in the United Arab Emirates in the latest attempt to ease tensions between the government and the opposition in Yemen. In a statement, the Gulf Cooperation Council said the meeting would focus on completing discussions that took place Sunday in Saudi Arabia with the opposition Joint Meeting Parties.

The meeting came as Yemeni security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters in the city of Taiz, injuring at least seven people, eyewitnesses and field medical teams said. Violence and protest have raged in Yemen, where protesters have called for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

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