Women demonstrate against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in front of the Syrian consulate in Istanbul
Syria's embattled president issued a decree on Thursday allowing opposition political parties, state media said after the UN Security Council condemned his regime's deadly crackdown on democracy protests, reports AFP.
The continuing bloodshed drew strong remarks from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose country has stonewalled firmer UN action, saying the situation is "dramatic" and expressing "enormous concern."
Witnesses and activists said security forces killed at least 37 people on Wednesday, 30 of them as tanks shelled the flashpoint protest hub of Hama.
A Hama resident, who managed to escape the city, told AFP in Nicosia that "the bodies of 30 people who were killed during shelling by the army have been buried in several public parks."
The witness, who declined to be identified for security reasons, said scores of people were being treated in hospitals for injuries and that fires had broken out in several buildings.
"Tanks are deployed throughout the city, particularly in Assi Square and outside the citadel," he said about landmarks in the city centre.
The witness said the army had used "bombs that break up into fragments when they explode," possibly meaning cluster bombs, on Wednesday and that Hama echoed with the intermittent sound of machine-gun fire on Thursday.
"Conditions are very difficult in the city. Communications, electricity and water are cut and there are food shortages," he said, adding that snipers were positioned on the roofs of private hospitals.
President Bashar al-Assad authorised the "Parties Law, which was earlier adopted as a bill by the government following a series of thorough discussions by lawmakers, intellectuals and Syrian citizens," said state news agency SANA.
The new law allows political parties to be set up alongside Assad's Baath party, in power since 1963 with the constitutional status of "the leader of state and society."
Political pluralism has been at the forefront of demands by pro-reform dissidents who since March 15 have been taking to the streets across Syria almost daily to call for greater freedoms.
"Citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic have the right to establish political parties and join them in accordance with this law," SANA said, and stressed parties would have to commit "to the constitution, principles of democracy and the rule of law."
EU Foreign Policy chief, Catherine Ashton reacted to the news by saying the multi-party reform offer is "in principle a step in the right direction, but only if they are genuinely put into effect.
"We are still waiting for previously announced reforms to be implemented," she said in a statement.
The new law is the latest attempt by Assad's regime to appease protesters.
In April, Assad issued orders lifting five decades of draconian emergency rule and abolishing the feared state security courts.
And in June, he said talks could lead to a new constitution and even end his Baath party's monopoly on power, but refused to reform Syria under "chaos."
But activists say the deadly unrest and wave of arrests have not abated.
Assad's regime has used brutal force to crush the movement, killing more than 1,600 civilians and arresting thousands, according to human rights activists.
Demonstrators have vowed to protest every night of Ramadan following evening prayers despite the assault on Hama and the killing of some 120 people across the country on the eve of the Muslim holy month of fasting.
Western powers had hoped for stronger action at the Security Council but were rebuffed by veto-wielding members Russia and China, who feared doing so would pave the way for another military intervention like the one in Libya.
But Medvedev spoke forcefully about the situation on Thursday, saying Russia's perspective could change.
Speaking in the southern resort of Sochi, Medvedev said "unfortunately, people die (in Syria) in large numbers. This arouses enormous concern from us."
He called on Assad to "carry out urgent reforms, come to terms with the opposition, restore peace and create a modern state."
"If he cannot do this, a sad fate awaits him, and in the end we will have to take some decision. We are watching the way the situation develops. As it changes, some of our perspectives also change.