Syrian army out in force in violence hit port city

LATAKIA, Syria — Syria’s
army was out in force Sunday in a port city scarred by unrest aimed at symbols
of the government, which is struggling to put down an unprecedented nationwide
outbreak of protest and dissent.

An Associated Press
photographer saw traces of what appeared to have been a serious battle in
Latakia’s main Sheik Daher square. Two police cars had been smashed and rocks
and telephone cables torn from overhead poles were strewn across the streets
and sidewalks.

The offices housing
SyriaTel, the mobile phone company owned in large part by a cousin of President
Bashar Assad, had been burned.

Syria has been rocked by
more than a week of anti-government demonstrations that begin with protests in
a drought-parched southern agricultural city and exploded nationwide on Friday.
Security forces have opened fire on demonstrators in at least six places,
leading to dozens of deaths.

Syria’s government said
that unknown gunmen firing from rooftops and prowling the streets of Latakia
were to blame for two days of violence in the city that killed 12 people.

Assad’s regime, one of the
most repressive in the Middle East, has tried to balance the use of force with
promises of reform. A lawmaker told The Associated Press on Sunday that he
expected Assad to soon announce that he was lifting a nearly 50-year state of
emergency, although the timing remained unclear.

Member of Parliament
Mohammed Habash told the AP that lawmakers expected to receive a memo from
Assad laying out a plan to end the state of emergency, possibly during a
parliament session Sunday evening. He did not provide details.

The state of emergency has
been in force since Assad’s Baath party took power on March 8, 1963. It lets
the government to detain suspects without trial and exercise strict control
over the media.