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Wednesday, 26 July, 2000, 19:08 GMT 20:08 UK
Bashar frees political prisoners
Bashar's election
President Bashar: Approved by 97% of Syrians
Reports from Syria say dozens of political prisoners are being released on the orders of the new President, Bashar al-Assad.

Reuters news agency said those being freed included members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

There have been calls recently by human rights groups for Syria to release hundreds of political prisoners believed still to be detained.

In another development, changes have been announced in Syria's state-run media - the first since Bashar al-Assad came to power.

Hundreds held

Earlier this year, human rights groups and more than 40 leading Islamists appealed to Syria's new president to free all political prisoners and scrap laws aimed at stifling political dissent.

The Islamists included leaders of Jordan's and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. The movement has long been suppressed in Syria, with members or sympathisers sent to jail.

Human rights groups say hundreds of people are still detained without trial and many others had been handed unjust sentences with no legal basis.

The organisations also called for a general pardon for all opposition members in exile so that they could return to Syria and help with Syria's development.

Official media shake-up

The head of Syrian radio and television Adel al-Yaziji has been replaced by the director-general of the national news agency, Fayez al-Sayegh.

He in turn has been replaced by the agency's correspondent in Cairo, Ali Abdul Karim.

The editors of two official newspapers, Tishrin and al-Thawra, have also been replaced.

There are other signs of a changing official approach to the media - Mr Assad recently ordered the official Syrian media to stop referring to him as the "eternal guide", an epithet normally reserved for God.

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See also:

20 Jul 00 | Middle East
Syrians end mourning for Assad
13 Jun 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Bashar's challenges
17 Jun 00 | Middle East
Ba'ath Party: Syria's pillar of power
20 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Syria
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