In this citizen journalism image acquired by the AP, people attend an anti-government protest in Daraa, Syria. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Syrian President Bashar Al Assad said on Saturday that the draconian emergency law in force in Syria for nearly 50 years will be abolished by next week.

Al Assad's announcement came on the eve of Syria's independence anniversary. The country gained independence from France on April 17, 1946.

In focus: Unrest in the Middle East

"The judicial commission on the emergency law has prepared a series of proposals for new legislation, and these proposals will be submitted to the government, which will issue a new law within a week at the most," he said in a televised address to the new cabinet.

The emergency law, in force since 1963, imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movement, authorises the interrogation of any individual and the monitoring of private communications and imposes media censorship.

Al Assad however, ignored popular demands to curb the security apparatus and dismantle Syria's authoritarian system.

In his second public appearance since the unrest began, Al Assad also expressed sorrow over the deaths of an estimated 200 people killed in pro-reform protests across Syria which entered the fifth week.

"We are sad for all the people we have lost and all the people injured, and consider them all martyrs," he said. "The Syrian people are respectable. They love the regime and reject chaos," Al Assad claimed, and called for a national dialogue to find the best model that suits the country.

Al Assad also spoke of what he called the gap "between citizens and the institutions of the state."

Range of issues

"It is important to eliminate this gap and fill it with the trust of the citizens in their state. Trust will not be built except through transparency," Al Assad said. "If we succeeded then this would be a historic reply to those who wrote that this region cannot make reforms." Al Assad also addressed the wide range of complaints, such as joblessness, corruption and a crisis in agriculture. "Corruption is a threat to morality and to the country's potential for development," he said.

On unemployment, which he acknowledged to be high even by Arab standards, he said that "when people feel the horizon is limited, they feel depression; and this depression can lead to despair."

Al Assad added that the world economic crisis had made the role of the state "more important," emphasising the need to support the "small entrepreneur and not large business" and to "improve the connection of markets, not only between people but between cities."

Meanwhile, thousands of people attended the funeral of a man who died after being shot by regime agents in the northwestern coastal city of Baniyas, witnesses and activists said.

Thousands join peaceful demonstrations

Earlier on Saturday, thousands of Syrians took to the streets in Daraa, Douma, Latakia, Baniyas and Kamishli in peaceful demonstrations, marking the fifth week of protests for reforms.

Protesters were allowed for the first time to move freely to reach their destination without interference from security or the‘infiltrators' who were blamed as a source of violence in the previous protests, according to the government.

The Douma protesters took three hours to reach Damascus. However in the Jobar area security forces had to disperse them using tear gas and firing in the air. Sources from the opposition spoke about injuries but there was no independent source of confirmation.

In general, this week protests were quite peaceful compared with previous bloody incidents. Al Assad has delivered what he had promised.

In his meeting with Daraa delegation on Wednesday, the president promised to allow peaceful demonstrators to move freely and to release all of the protesters arrested earlier if they were not involved in crimes.

"I hope he will be able to deliver the reforms he had promised for and transfer Syria into a democratic country," Dr Ahmad M from Daraa told Gulf News.

With input from agencies