Syrians await president’s address

Thousands gathered in Damascus in support of President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected to address the nation in his first speech since anti-government demonstrations erupted two weeks ago.

More than 60 people have been killed during violent protests that began in the southern city of Deraa.

He is expected to announce a lifting of the state of emergency in place for the past 50 years.

On Tuesday, the country’s cabinet resigned and huge crowds took to the streets to show support for Mr Assad.

There were reports that many of the supporters had been mobilised by the government.

Members of unions controlled by the Baath Party said they had been ordered to attend the rallies, according to Reuters.

A new cabinet – which will have the role of implementing the expected reforms – is expected to be named by the end of the week.

At a crossroads

“The president will deliver a major speech to the Syrian people, linked to domestic issues and recent developments in Syria,” the official Sana news agency reported, according to Agence France Presse.

Under the current emergency law, security forces have sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

The Syrian government is reported to be studying the liberalisation of laws on media and political parties as well as anti-corruption measures. An easing of restrictions on civil liberties and political freedom is also expected.

One human rights activist, Aktham Nuaisse, said the country stood “at a crossroads”.

“Either the president takes immediate, drastic reform measures, or the country descends into one of several ugly scenarios. If he is willing to lead Syria into a real democratic transformation, he will be met halfway by the Syrian people,” he told AP.

Analysts say there are divergent views within the Syrian leadership on handing the crisis – one group favours a crackdown on the dissent while the other prefers dialogue.

The unrest has become the biggest threat to the rule of President Assad, 45, who succeeded his father Hafez on his death in 2000.

The turmoil started after the arrest of several teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall in the southern city of Deraa, and quickly spread to other provinces.

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