President Bashar Assad made a rare public pledge to look into granting Syrians greater freedom on Thursday as anger mounted following attacks by security forces on protesters that left at least 37 dead.
But despite the pledge and large public pay rises, thousands of Syrians turned out to chant "freedom, revolution" in the center of the southern city of Deraa, the focal point of protests against 48 years of Baath Party rule.
"The Syrian people do not bow," they also chanted around the main Omari mosque, shortly after security forces evacuated the building which they stormed on Wednesday, killing six people.
Promises for reform
Syrian opposition figures said the promises did not meet the aspirations of the people and were similar to those repeated at regular Baath Party conferences, where committees would be formed to study reforms that then never saw the light of day.
"The leadership is trying to absorb the rage of the streets. We want to see reform on the ground," said a protester in the southern city of Deraa.
A hospital official said at least 37 people had been killed in the southern city of Deraa on Wednesday when security forces opened fire on demonstrators inspired by uprisings across the Arab world that have shaken authoritarian leaders.
While an aide said Assad would study a possible end to 48 years of emergency rule, a human rights group said a leading pro-democracy activist, Mazen Darwish, had been arrested.
Announcing promises for reform in a manner that would have seemed almost unimaginable three months ago in Syria, Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told a news conference the president had not himself ordered his forces to fire on protesters: "I was a witness to the instructions of His Excellency that live ammunition should not be fired, even if the police, security forces or officers of the status were being killed."
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