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Syria Meets New Defiance With Bullets and a Warning

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The government in Syria tried to placate protesters with declarations of reform Tuesday while bluntly warning its people to end more than a month of demonstrations, a now-familiar strategy in one of the Arab world’s most repressive countries that has so far failed to blunt the most serious challenge to its 40-year rule.
The mix of concession and coercion came hours after police, army and the other forces of an authoritarian state were marshaled to crush one of the biggest gatherings yet by protesters bent on staging an Egyptian-style sit-in in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. At least two people died as security forces cleared the square, protesters said, but there were conflicting accounts on casualties.

The warning by the Interior Ministry — forbidding protests “under any banner whatsoever” — suggested that the government was prepared to escalate a crackdown, even as the promised repeal of emergency law, in place since 1963, went far in meeting at least some of the demands of protests that have mirrored uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world and reverberated across a region where Syria’s influence outstretches its relative power. The repeal must still be formally approved by Parliament or the president, but that amounts to a formality.


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