Protests Planned for Syrian Independence Day

BEIRUT -- Activists called for protests across Syria on Sunday to mark Independence Day and to bolster the popular uprising against the country's authoritarian regime.

The plans come despite promises by President Bashar Assad to end nearly 50 years of emergency rule and implement other reforms following more than a month of unprecedented -- and growing -- demonstrations. More than 200 people have been killed as security forces tried to crush the protests using live ammunition, tear gas and batons.

Syria's leading pro-democracy group, the Damascus Declaration, urged Syrians to stage peaceful protests in all Syrian cities and abroad to "bolster Syria's popular uprising and ensure its continuity."

In a strongly worded statement posted on the group's website, the Damascus Declaration said the regime was responsible for killing and wounding hundreds of Syrians who have been calling for their legitimate rights in the past month.

"The regime alone stands fully responsible for the blood of martyrs and all that will happen next in the country," the statement said.

Other activists also called for protests through social network sites.

Bowing to pressure from the uprising now in its second month, Assad promised Saturday to end the widely despised emergency law, but coupled his concession with a stern warning that further unrest will be considered sabotage.

He warned there will no longer be "an excuse" for organizing protests once Syria lifts emergency rule and implements a spate of reforms, which he said will include a new law allowing the formation of political parties.

"After that, we will not tolerate any attempt at sabotage," Assad said in a televised meeting with his Cabinet.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets before and after Assad's speech in a sign that his promises were unlikely to appease a movement that has grown bolder in demanding sweeping changes.

Assad said armed gangs and a "foreign conspiracy" were behind the unrest, not true reform-seekers.

On Sunday, Syria's state-run news agency said security forces seized a large quantity of weapons hidden in a truck coming from Iraq. SANA reported that the weapons were confiscated at the Tanaf crossing on the Syrian-Iraqi border, adding the shipment included machine-guns, automatic rifles, night vision goggles and grenade launchers.

Syria said a similar shipment was confiscated on March 11.