Assad grants amnesty, supporters rally
Beirut, June 21, 2011
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad issued a general amnesty on Tuesday, a day after he promised wide-ranging but vague reforms to counter a three-month popular revolt against his autocratic rule.
Activists and analysts had dismissed Assad's promises on Monday, saying they failed to engage the demands of protesters who for three months have defied a fierce military crackdown in rallying for greater freedoms, posing the gravest challenge to his 11-year tenure.
The pardon, the second of its kind in three weeks, includes anyone who committed crimes until June 20, the state news agency Sana said. After the first amnesty, Syrian authorities freed hundreds of political prisoners but rights groups say there are still thousands languishing in Syrian jails.
Assad said on Monday he would ask the Justice Ministry to look into issuing a wider amnesty because, according to meetings he held with local leaders, he 'felt that the (first) amnesty was not satisfactory for many...and there is a desire that this (second) amnesty be more inclusive'.
Rights groups say the crackdown against protesters has intensified since the first amnesty was announced on May 31 and hundreds of people have been arrested.
On Tuesday tens of thousands of Syrians turned out for pro-Assad rallies across the country in support of Assad's address in which he promised reforms that were immediately dismissed by protesters.
State television showed rallies in Aleppo, Damascus, and the southern city of Deraa, where protests against Assad first erupted in mid-March. People waved the country's tri-colour flag, carried pictures of the president and flew red, white and black balloons in the air.
Witnesses in Deraa said security forces opened fire to disperse several thousand protesters in the city's old quarter. They took to the streets in reaction to a pro-government rally in the Mahatta area which they said employees and army forces in civilian clothes had been ordered to attend. - Reuters