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SYRIA: More than 200 political prisoners released, rights group says; police station reportedly burned by mourners for slain protester

March 26, 2011 |  7:41 am

Syrian authorities released more than 200 political prisoners on Saturday, according to the London-based rights group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and angry mourners reportedly torched a police station and the local headquarters for the Baath Party near Dara during a funeral for a demonstrator killed on Friday.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights carried a breaking news alert on its website Saturday, saying that more than 200 political prisoners had been released from Saidnaya prison outside Damascus -- a jail known for keeping political detainees.

Rami Abdulrahman, head of the rights group, told Agence France-Presse that the majority of those released on Saturday were Islamists. No further details were immediately available.

One Syrian human rights advocate told Babylon & Beyond that authorities had issued pardons for 260 people and that preliminary reports indicated that they were Islamists and had no relation to the protests in Dara.

Also, media reports surfaced Saturday that Syrian television was announcing that 70 political detainees had been released.

There was no immediate confirmation from Syrian authorities about the reports. 

The reports of the prisoner releases did not appear to appease some opposition activists, who said the people would not be tricked by "empty promises" and talk.

"The regime releases 70 political prisoners ..!!! And where are the 16,000 prisoners jailed over 30 years who fate are unknown?," asked a posting on the Facebook page of the group The Syrian Revolution 2011." Oh ... your empty promises will not deceive this people."

Syria has reportedly released other detainees over the last few days, apparently to try to appease demonstrators and prevent the backlash from a deadly clampdown on protesters from escalating further.

But dozens of others are reported to have been arrested at demonstrations across the country.

Sources told Babylon & Beyond that protests were underway in some areas on Saturday and that funerals of people who died in demonstrations in towns and cities such as Dara, Lattakia and Homs were taking place.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

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