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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2005, 19:42 GMT
Syria frees political prisoners
Damascus's Souq al-Hamidiya
Syria's president has clamped down on dissent in recent years
Syria has freed 190 political prisoners, including two prominent human rights activists.

Mohammed Raadoun and Ali Abdullah had been in prison since May.

State-run news agency Sana said President Bashar al-Assad had made the move in an effort to strengthen national unity.

Syria faces action by the UN unless it co-operates fully with an investigation into the death of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

An interim inquiry report implicated Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials, and accused Damascus of misleading his investigating team.

Emergency law

Last June, opposition figures and prominent intellectuals signed a letter urging the president to free political prisoners.

They also called for the abolition of Syria's 42-year-old emergency law, which activists say permits arbitrary arrests and trials.

President Assad issued the amnesty "in line with the comprehensive reform policy that aims at consolidating national cohesiveness, which is fundamental to the social fabric and national interests," Sana reported.

The agency also said that further steps and measures would follow "on the basis that the homeland embraces all".

"This move gains the government more popularity and consolidates national unity in the face of the dangers facing Syria," Ammar Qurabi, a spokesman for the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in Syria (AOHRS), told Reuters news agency.

Mr Raadoun, one of those released, is the head of the AOHRS.

Pro-democracy activist Mr Abdullah was jailed in May for reading a statement by the outlawed Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

The identities of the other prisoners released are not yet known.


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