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Syria lifting emergency law, official says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Syria's emergency law to be lifted
  • NEW: Syria's cabinet is expected to resign next week, a source says
  • Assad is expected to address the country "within the next couple of days," a source says
  • Syrian government asks people to ignore calls for rallies in a Damascus square
  • Violence has been reported in Daraa, Latakia and elsewhere

(CNN) -- Syria's emergency law, which has been in place nearly 50 years, is in the process of being lifted, a source close to the Syrian government said Sunday.

The decision comes as the country grapples with deadly violence surrounding anti-government protests.

Earlier, Reem Haddad, spokeswoman for the Syrian Information Ministry, told CNN that "it will be lifted." However, she could not say when.

The law allows the government to make preventive arrests and override constitutional and penal code statutes. In effect since 1963, it also bars detainees who haven't been charged from filing court complaints or from having a lawyer present during interrogations.

The source close to the Syrian government also said the cabinet is expected to resign next week, as soon as President Bashar al Assad decides on a new prime minister.

Assad is also reviewing Article 8 of the Constitution, which defines the Baath Party as the "leading party in the society and the state" and limits the formation of political parties, the source said. And he is reviewing a political parties law that was originally due to be issued in 2003, the source said. A new draft of the law "may be handed to the public to approve of through a referendum," the source said.

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Assad is expected to address his embattled nation amid reports of protesters being shot to death in recent days as they called for government reforms. A source close to the Syrian government told CNN that Assad is expected to speak to the nation "within the next couple of days," and likely not Sunday.

Violence has consumed recent demonstrations in the restive city of Daraa and the coastal town of Latakia, according to witnesses.

Syria's state-run news agency, citing an unidentified official source, said the attacks of "armed gangs" in Latakia over the past two days has led to the deaths of 10 security force members and civilians and two gunmen. SANA reported that 200 people, most of them security forces, were wounded by the gangs, which also attacked a hospital.

Anti-government protests in Latakia had started peacefully Saturday before several people were wounded in a hail of gunfire as security forces tightened their control on access to the city, witnesses said. However, presidential spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban told state media that it was an unidentified group of gunmen who opened fire at citizens and security forces.

CNN could not independently confirm the accounts as the Syrian government has yet to grant access to the country.

SANA reported Sunday that the interior ministry "is asking everyone not to respond to inciting leaflets calling for rallies in the Umayyad Square," the largest and most important square in Damascus. State TV also reported that the government was warning people not to attend the Sunday rallies.

On Saturday, hundreds of Syrians demonstrated peacefully without security forces present in Daraa, where dozens of people were killed in violent clashes last week.

The protest also served as a funeral site for throngs of mourners to remember those who died in earlier demonstrations, the witness said.

Friday was marred with reports of casualties in the southern cities of Sanamen and Daraa where government security forces allegedly opened fire on protesters. In Daraa, dozens were shot in the head and neck and hundreds more were wounded when snipers on rooftops began firing into the crowd, according to a doctor in Daraa who declined to be named for security reasons.

The protesters, who were not carrying weapons, chanted, "We need our freedom, We need democracy," the doctor said.

In the neighboring city of Sanamen, at least 20 others were killed and more than 60 people were wounded Friday after government security forces began shooting at demonstrators, the doctor in Daraa told CNN.

Thousands in Sanamen marched Saturday in what appeared to be a mixture of political protest and funeral procession as they sought to bury six people killed in violent clashes earlier in the week, another witness said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States has no plans to enter the conflict in Syria as it has in Libya. "Each of these situations is unique," she said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"Certainly we deplore the violence in Syria, we call as we have on all of these governments during this period of the Arab awakening, as some have called it, to be responding to their people's needs, not to engage in violence, permit peaceful protests and begin a process of economic and political reform," she added.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told "Fox News Sunday" that if Assad attacks his own people, an international coalition should intervene as in Libya.

"If Assad does what (Libyan leader Moammar) Gadhafi was doing, which is to threaten and go house-to-house and kill anybody who's not on his side, there's a precedent now that the world community has set in Libya. And it's the right one," Lieberman, I-Connecticut, said Sunday." "We're not going to stand by and allow this Assad to slaughter his people like his father did years ago."

CNN's Rima Maktabi contributed to this report