Delegations from Duma just outside Damascus and Homs in central Syria today met with President al-Assad to present their requests for reform, reports Al-Watan Online. Following violence in several cities and in the countryside peoples committees were established to act as representatives to bring the people’s demands to the leadership. The delegations comprised farmers, workers, industry, lawyers and other parts of the community. Both groups called for the lifting of the state of emergency, and improvements in the local economies, as well as better sanitation, water supplies, lower unemployment and an end to corruption.

In Banias further violent clashes were reported and one soldier, six intelligence officers and three militants were killed, reported Al-Watan. Day Press News said 200 men, some as old as 60, were arrested in al-Baida, a village near the coastal city. A crowd gathered yesterday in the village to demand the release of the men. Al-Watan said security forces and the army were still searching for the ’armed gang’ which has been shooting civilians and officials in the area. Yesterday afternoon security forces were attacked by unidentified gunmen and many civilians were killed reports the newspaper. Two soldiers killed in the Lattakia-Tartous highway ambush were buried yesterday in their home villages.

In other news, Eric Chevallier, the French ambassador, has said that the international media is greatly exaggerating what is happening in Syria, reported Al-Watan Online. He said the country is at a critical time in its history and needs its friends to stand by it. He made the comments at the annual Water and Energy conference in Damascus.

Rumours are circulating that the toning down of Easter celebrations this year come as a result of anti-Christian graffiti found on a church wall. However the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Damascus, Joseph Absi, said he had contacted every church in the city and none had reported such an incident, says Al-Watan Online. Meanwhile the governor of Lattakia has met with religious figures and urged tolerance amidst mounting fears of sectarian violence.

Syria Today (Syria)