Thousands of Syrians chanted slogans calling for greater freedom at Independence Day rallies, witnesses said, a day after President Bashar al-Assad promised to lift emergency law.
The people want freedom several hundred people shouted at the grave of independence leader Ibrahim Hananu in Syria's second city Aleppo, which has been mostly free of pro-democracy protests that erupted more than a month ago in the south.
Hundreds also turned out in the southern city of Suweida, in the heart of the country's Druze heartland. They chanted God, Syria, freedom, that's all before coming under attack from Assad loyalists, a woman at the demonstration said.
The demonstrations, which rights campaigners said included a march by about 1,500 people in the city of Banias, were held on the day Syria marked the anniversary of the departure of French soldiers 65 years ago.
Assad said on Saturday legislation to replace emergency law, in place for almost 50 years, should be ready by next week. But he did not address protesters' demands to curb Syria's pervasive security apparatus and dismantle its authoritarian system.
Rights groups say more than 200 people have been killed since demonstrations erupted in Deraa on March 18 in protest against the arrest of youths who had scrawled graffiti inspired by the Arab uprisings in North Africa.
Witnesses said thousands gathered in a main Deraa square after noon prayers on Sunday, chanting for the downfall of the regime. The scene would have been unthinkable in Syria just a month ago, but residents said the mood was festive and there was little sign of security forces in the streets.
The unprecedented unrest has spread across the tightly controlled state, posing the sternest challenge yet to Assad, who assumed the presidency in 2000 when his father, Hafez al-Assad, died after 30 years in power.
But the head of Germany's intelligence service was quoted on Sunday as saying the Assad dynasty's history of crushing dissent meant a North Africa-style uprising was unlikely.
Remember that the father of the current president a few decades back murdered as many as 30,000 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama, Ernst Uhrlau told Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper, referring to Hafez al-Assad's crushing of a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in 1982.