Assad forms panel to study lifting emergency law

Syria has set up a committee to implement anti-terrorism legislation.

Damascus: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, facing a wave of demonstrations for greater freedoms, has set up a committee to look into replacing a decades-old emergency law with anti-terrorism legislation.

The state news agency SANA said on Thursday the panel would study and prepare "legislation including protecting the nation`s security and the citizen`s dignity and fighting terrorism, paving the way for lifting the emergency law."

It said the committee would complete its work by April 25, but gave no further details.

Repealing emergency law, used for decades to snuff out any opposition to monolithic Baath Party rule, has been a central demand of protesters who have held two weeks of demonstrations in which more than 60 people have been killed.

Syrian officials said last week a decision had been taken to abolish emergency legislation.

But in his first public remarks since the wave of protests, Assad on Wednesday made no reference to rescinding the law, or setting a timetable for mooted reforms including legislation on political parties, media freedom and fighting corruption.

The United States dismissed Assad`s long awaited speech, saying it failed to meet expectations built up by Assad`s officials last week at the height of the protests when they said he would announce a clear programme of reform.

Thursday`s announcement was unlikely to convince skeptics.

"When you set up a committee in our part of the world it means you want to bury the issue," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut. "He`s buying time."

Bureau Report

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