Protests renewed throughout Syria despite change in law

20 protesters said shot since violence started in central city of Homs; security police chief in Banias removed in new concession; Clinton says gov't must stop arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of prisoners.

Protesters in Syrian city of Homs 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Protesters in Syrian city of Homs 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
AMMAN - Syrians took to the streets in large numbers again on Wednesday in the central city of Homs where activists say more than 20 pro-democracy protesters have been shot dead since Monday by soldiers and irregular forces.
Protesters chanted for "the downfall of the regime", in defiance of a heavy deployment of security forces and a warning by officials to stop all forms of demonstrations.
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The protest also went ahead despite a concession by the government which approved legislation on Tuesday to end the state of emergency in force for the last 48 years.
In the city of Banias, in what was seen as another attempt to mollify protesters, the chief of security police was sacked, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday condemned violence against protesters in Syria and said the Syrian government must stop the arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of prisoners.
Five civilians were killed in Banias last week and residents identified Amjad Abbas, the fired police chief, as one of the officers seen beating a villager in the nearby town of Baida, the Observatory said, citing sources in Damascus.
Along with the bill on emergency law, the newly appointed cabinet also approved legislation that requires Syrians to seek permission from the state before they demonstrate.
Security forces had sealed off Banias last week after demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad and an attack by irregular forces loyal to him on men guarding a Sunni mosque.
Inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, demonstrators have taken to the streets for more than a month demanding greater freedoms, undaunted by a security crackdown.
Rights groups, which say more than 200 have been killed since the unrest started, have called for independent investigations into the actions of security forces.
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Hours before Tuesday's cabinet decision, the Interior Ministry had called on citizens to refrain from protesting at all. Activists said the ministry statement and the fact that authorities on Tuesday night arrested a leftist opposition figure suggested the government's move to lift emergency law will not halt repression.
Protests continued overnight, including in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani where protesters called for freedom and for the overthrow of Assad's rule, echoing the rallying cries of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
There were also sit-ins in Jabla on the coast, a women's rally in Barzeh in Damascus, and a candlelight procession in Tel near the capital overnight.
In Syria's second city, Aleppo, Assad's irregular forces broke up a small demonstration at the city's university, beating several students and arresting 37, a rights activist said.