Thousands of protesters have reportedly fanned out across Syria after Friday prayers to express their continuing discontent over the government of President Bashar al-Assad's government, one day after the 48-year emergency laws were officially lifted.
Al Jazeera reported that large rallies are taking place in Damascus, Deraa, Qamishli, and Hasakah.
BBC reported that there are unconfirmed witness accounts of state security forces firing in the vicinity of demonstrators in the cities of Homs and Hama, and tear gas fired upon crowd in or near Damascus.
Pro-government factions reportedly attacked protesters in the heavily Kurdish northeast.
Human Rights Watch, who believe that more than 200 people have died during five weeks of unrest, are hoping that Assad will “prove his intentions by allowing (Friday's) protests to proceed without violent repression. The reforms will only be meaningful if Syria's security services stop shooting, detaining, and torturing protesters.”
An Al Jazeera reporter in Damascus stated: The big question on everybody’s minds is: what will we see here in the capital. Last Friday people tried to march into the capital but they were turned back by tear gas. What we see now is that security forces are pre-empting protests by positioning themselves in the centre of towns like Homs and Deraa, so it will be difficult for the protesters to get to the centre of these towns when the security forces are already there.
Assad has also moved to abolish state security courts and said he will allow peaceful protests. However, he has warned that with the emergency being lifted, there are no more excuses for demonstrations.
However, critics contend that the new laws are just as repressive as the ones imposed under the emergency. For example, Syrians will have to get permission from the interior ministry to stage public protests. State security forces will still have wide-ranging powers to detain people.
Indeed, it appears that now more dissenters are seeking to overthrow the Baathist regime, rather than just settle for minor reforms,
Suhair Atassi, a leading Syrian activist wrote on her Twitter page: The state of emergency was brought down, not lifted. It is a victory as a result of demonstrations, protests and the blood of martyrs who called for Syria's freedom.
In a joint statement, an umbrella group of protesters, the Local Coordination Committees, said freedom and dignity slogans cannot be achieved except through peaceful democratic change. All prisoners of conscience must be freed. The existing security apparatus has to be dismantled and replaced by one with specific jurisdiction and which operates according to law.”