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Syria says may scrap emergency law

President Bashar al-Assad's government said on Thursday it may scrap the decades-old emergency law following a week of deadly protests in the southern city of Daraa.

"I am happy to announce to you the decisions made today by the Arab Baath party under the auspices of President Bashar al-Assad... which include... studying the possibility of lifting the emergency law and licensing political parties," the president's media adviser told a news conference.

Buthaina Shaaban said the Syrian people's demands were "just."

Earlier on Thursday she put the death toll from clashes in Daraa 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Damascus at 10, whereas activists said that 100 people had been shot dead on Wednesday alone.

Shaaban said Assad had chaired a meeting of the ruling Baath party at which decisions taken included guaranteeing security for the people, and a higher committee to discuss with Daraa residents what had happened and sanction those responsible.

"Every decision that is being made has taken into account the people of Daraa," she said.

"There are some demands and we will respond to these demands. Some of it will be very quickly. Some of it might take time and discussions.

"If there is a legitimate demand by the people then the authorities will take it seriously, but if somebody wants to just cause trouble then it is a different story," she warned.

Daraa itself, hub for a week of anti-regime protests, resembled a ghost town late Thursday with all shops and schools closed as thousands of soldiers and anti-terrorism units patrolled the streets.

Entrances to the city remained sealed off, with vehicles granted access having to negotiate separate checkpoints manned by armed plain-clothes forces.

The city's Omari mosque, where protesters had been holed up for a week, was also void of protesters, an AFP photographer reported, one day after several people were shot dead in the area.

Syria has had an emergency law banning demonstrations since 1963, and is the latest state in the Middle East to witness an uprising against a long-running autocratic regime.

Activists have said at least 100 people were killed by gunfire on Wednesday alone in the city, a tribal area at Syria's border with Jordan that has been the focal point of protests demanding the end of emergency rule and calling for reforms in Syria where the Baath party has ruled uncontested for 40 years.

Reports of mass arrests have also surfaced in Syria this month, with rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urging the government to cease its crackdown on the protests.

Amnesty International has said at least 93 people had been arrested this month, some for their online activities, in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Banias, Daraa, Hama, Homs, and others.

The crackdown has earned Syria harsh rebukes from the United States, Britain, France and the United Nations.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon