U.S. Skeptical New Syria Law Will Be Less Restrictive

Syria regime lifts decades-old emergency law but passes new law to 'regulate right of peaceful protest'; Syrian protesters also unimpressed by government's move.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that the United States is unsure that Syria's draft law to lift emergency rule will be less restrictive.

Earlier Tuesday, Syria's government passed a draft law to lift 48 years of emergency rule. State news agency SANA said the cabinet ratified draft legislation which must still be signed by President Bashar Assad.

Syria - Reuters - April 17, 2011

"It's unclear whether they've passed legislation to lift the emergency law, but that a new law requiring protesters that - to receive permission from the Interior Ministry before holding demonstration may be - may be in play here," Toner said.

Syria's cabinet also passed legislation to "regulate the right of peaceful protest" and Interior Ministry permission will be required to demonstrate in Syria, the state news agency said.

In light of some of the comments from Syria's interior minister, "this new legislation may prove as restrictive as the emergency law it replaced," Toner said.

Toner also said that violence overnight by soldiers firing on protesters continued "to raise serious concerns and it remains clear that the Syrian government needs to urgently implement broader reforms and ... to cease violence against peaceful protesters."

"[President Assad] has spoken several times now. He has cast himself for a while now as a reformer, but again, we've seen a lot of words and not a lot of action," Toner said.

Syria's government passed a draft law on Tuesday to lift 48 years of emergency rule, a concession to unprecedented demands for greater freedom in the tightly-controlled Arab country.

But protests continued after the announcement, with demonstrators taking to the streets in the city of Banias and opposition leaders said they would not stop until their other demands, including the release of political prisoners, freedom of speech, and a multi-party system, were also met.