Syrian President Bashar Assad signed a law to officially end 48 years of emergency rule in that country Thursday in an attempt to appease angry protests against his 11-year regime by people demanding greater freedoms, according to Syrian State TV.

Meanwhile, Syrian soldiers and armed security agents in plainclothes deployed across the tense central city of Homs on Thursday, taking up positions in the area on the eve of large rallies planned by Syrian anti-government activists, eyewitnesses said.

The deployment came as Assad appointed a new governor for Homs after having caved in to protesters' demands to replace its top local official earlier this month.

Homs has seen violent confrontations as Syrian security forces have cracked down on anti-government protesters over the past weeks. At least 12 protesters were killed over the weekend and several others died Tuesday when security forces fired on hundreds of people staging a sit-in.

President Bashar Assad sacked the Homs governor on April 7, in an overture to the mass protests that have threatened his grip on power. Syria's state news agency said on Thursday the president appointed Ghassan Abdul-Al as the new governor.

At least 200 people have been killed in the government crackdown since the protests erupted last month, according to Syrian rights groups.

An eyewitness in Homs said almost all shops in the city were closed for the third straight day Thursday, after activists had called for a general strike. Some 2,000 people took part in a funeral Wednesday for a person who died in the earlier violence.

He and other activists told The Associated Press that huge rallies were planned nationwide Friday. The protests have dubbed the day "Good Friday," in reference to the Friday before Easter when Christians mark the death of Jesus Christ.