After gunfire was heard during massive protests in the northern Syria port of Latakia Wednesday, the state-run news agency announced that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had ordered a review of the country’s laws, Al Jazeera reported.
Committees have been set up to not only review decades-old emergency laws but also look into the deaths of civilians during the past few weeks of unrest. The committee is to finish work by April 25.
Twelve people were killed last week in Latakia, which led the government to deploy security forces to the city, Al Jazeera reported.
Wednesday’s gunfire happened after Assad concluded his first speech since the country’s massive protests began, Agence France-Presse reported.
Reports were sketchy about how many were injured or dead in the gunfire, although residents reported a drive-by shooting at a sit-in, according to the AFP, and footage emerged that was said to show that the gunfire following the speech left at least one person dead from a gunshot to the head.
Protesters were angered after Assad’s speech concluded because he did not announce the end of 50 years of emergency rule, as was expected. Assad instead accused Syria's enemies of a “conspiracy” targeting national unity, in words that brought Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi accusations of enemies feeding Libyan rebels “hallucinogenic drugs” to mind.
Assad also did not offer any concrete political reforms or concessions to protesters during his speech, and criticized social networking sites and satellite television channels for the dissent, International Business Times reported.
The announcement on state television today is seen as a move to placate protesters after yesterday’s speech, and to show that Assad will make reforms at his own pace, according to Al Jazeera.
But many activists had already branded Wednesday’s speech as a turning point that showed there was no possibility of compromise with Assad. Activist Ammar Abdulhamid wrote on his blog Syrian Revolution Digest that the speech indicated Assad had finally shed his reformist guise:
This was it. Today was Bashar Al-Assad’s long-awaited moment to settle the decade-long debate on his so-called crypto-reform impulses. And he did. But in doing so, he dashed the hopes of his own supporters, further alienated the large segment of the population still considering its options, and hardened the stand of protesters.
Other activists tweeted their anger that reports of gunfire Latakia did not attribute the violence to either the government or the protesters:
Massive protests are planned for next Friday, and both protesters and media have warned that violence is inevitable.
“Friday is going to be a real ... precipitating moment here: how people will protest. Will they continue to protest for just reforms or could we see something more drastic perhaps — people protesting to end his rule?” Al Jazeera correspondent Cal Perry reported.