Syria's president formally ratified an end to the 48-year-old state of emergency on Thursday as the regime tried to dampen enthusiasm for the country's month-long uprising on the eve of massive rallies planned for Friday.
President Bashar Assad is trying to calm angry protests against his authoritarian rule by issuing a series of concessions, including an end to the emergency law that gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest.
But many protesters said Assad did not deserve credit for lifting the law.
"The state of emergency was brought down, not lifted. It is a victory as a result of demonstrations, protests and the blood of martyrs who called for Syria's freedom," prominent Syrian activist Suhair Atassi, who was arrested several times in the past, wrote on her Twitter page.
New protests were expected after Muslim prayers on Friday, which has become the main day of the week for protests across the Arab world. The movement has crossed a significant threshold in recent days, with increasing numbers now seeking nothing less than the downfall of the regime.
The month-long uprising in Syria has posed the biggest challenge to the 40-year
ruling dynasty of Assad and his father before him. So far, Assad's strategy has been to couple dry promises of reform with a relentless crackdown.
In addition ending the state of emergency, he fulfilled a decades-old demand by granting citizenship to thousands among Syria's long-ostracized Kurdish minority, fired local officials, released detainees and formed a new government.
But the crackdown has only fueled the protests. Activists say Assad has unleashed his security forces along with shadowy, pro-government thugs known as shabiha to brutalize and intimidate them. At least 200 people have been killed in the government crackdown since the protests erupted, human rights groups say.
On Thursday, Syria deployed soldiers and armed security agents in plainclothes across the tense central city of Homs, presumably to establish their positions ahead of the rallies. Assad also appointed a new governor for Homs after granting protesters' demands to replace the top local official earlier this month.
Homs has seen violent confrontations as Syrian security forces have cracked down on anti-government protesters over the past weeks. At least 12 protesters were killed over the weekend and several others died Tuesday when security forces fired on hundreds of people staging a sit-in.
Assad sacked the Homs governor on April 7, in an overture to the mass protests that have threatened his grip on power. Syria's state news agency said on Thursday the president appointed Ghassan Abdul-Al as the new governor.
An eyewitness in Homs said almost all shops in the city were closed for the third straight day Thursday, after activists had called for a general strike.
Some 2,000 people took part in a funeral Wednesday for a person who died in the earlier violence.
He and other activists told The Associated Press that huge rallies were planned nationwide Friday. The protests have dubbed the day Good Friday, in reference to the Friday before Easter when Christians mark the death of Jesus Christ.
They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
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