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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
Syria to ease state of emergency
Syrians at newspaper stand
The Baath party's proposed reforms fall short of previous promises
Syria's ruling Baath party has voted to ease a state of emergency that has been in force for more than 40 years.

The four-day congress also decided to allow new political parties to be formed, but parties based on religion or ethnicity are expected to be banned.

The congress has also adopted a "social market economy", which seems a first step towards a free market economy.

Recommendations must be approved by parliament and it may take more than a year before they come into force.

The state of emergency should only apply to "crimes that threatened the state security," Bussaina Shaaban, Syria's emigrants' minister and spokeswoman for the conference, said.

Other proposed changes included the improvement of relations with Iraq.

Most opposition groups have been calling for much more
Ammar Abdulhamid, analyst
The congress urged Syria to "correct the flaws that have marred Syrian-Iraqi relations," in a possible reference to Iraqi claims that Syria is not doing enough to stop the flow of Islamic militants through its border and into Iraq.

The Congress also recommended that Syria "mends the rifts" with Lebanon, which it has occupied militarily until a short while ago.

Mr Assad, who was unanimously re-elected as the party leader, gave a three-hour speech on the recommendations, stressing the importance of granting women equal opportunities also at decision-making level.

The BBC correspondent in Damascus says the reforms, which came at a time of huge international pressure on Syria, were certainly not the great leap forward promised by President Bashar al-Assad - an opinion shared by Syrian pundits.

"Most opposition groups have been calling for much more," analyst Ammar Abdulhamid told the Associated Press news agency.

"For instance, we want the emergency law to be completely removed."

Mr Abdulhamid, who used to work for the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think-tank, added that the Baath party, which has been in power in Syria since 1963, would not introduce changes that might jeopardise its supremacy.




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