Syria's Bashar al-Assad blames 'foreign conspiracy'

 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: "Nobody can deny the seriousness of these plots"

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has blamed a foreign conspiracy for trying to destabilise Syria, as a mass uprising against his rule continues.

The "external conspiracy is clear to everybody", Mr Assad said in his first public remarks in months.

He said elections could be held later this year but "terrorism", he added, would be met with an "iron fist".

Meanwhile the Arab League said it held the government "totally responsible" for attacks against its observers.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi denounced "irresponsible action and acts of violence against the league's observers" in Syria.

Mr Arabi said some monitors had been wounded in attacks by both pro-regime elements and by opposition supporters.

Analysis

We have heard much of this script before from Bashar al-Assad. The crisis in his country has been caused by a foreign conspiracy; the protesters are terrorists; he still has the support of the Syrian people; and his government alone will implement reform.

It was a rambling speech to a sympathetic audience. The president appeared relaxed, even managing a few jokes. But there was no flexibility in his view of the uprising, which is blamed entirely on other countries and internal enemies - not even the smallest acknowledgement that the protesters may have legitimate demands.

It is possible he really believes this Orwellian narrative. Or it is possible he was shoring up his base, sticking to his guns to show them he intends to stay at the helm.

He offered a timetable for reform, stating that a new constitution could be put to a referendum by March this year, with multiparty elections following two or three months after that.

Given the turmoil in Syria, this is an impossibly tight schedule. Either the president is making a promise he knows he cannot honour or he has lost his grip on reality.

Earlier, Kuwait's state news agency said two Kuwaiti members of the mission had been slightly injured on Monday in the city of Latakia by "unidentified protesters".

They were discharged from hospital and have now returned to their duties, Kuna news agency said.

'No order to fire'

President Assad's speech, broadcast live from Damascus University, was his third televised address since protests against his rule began in March, and lasted nearly two hours.

"Regional and international sides have tried to destabilise the country," he said.

"Our priority now is to regain the security in which we basked in for decades, and this can only be achieved by hitting the terrorists with an iron fist.

"We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders against the country."

BBC world affairs correspondent Nick Childs says the speech was a riposte to those who are asking questions about the pressure under which Mr Assad is operating.

It was a message that there will be no concessions and its main theme was that nothing is going to change as far as the Syrian response is concerned, our correspondent says.

Start Quote

I rule with the will of the people. If I give up power, I will do so with the will of the people too”

End Quote President Bashar al-Assad

Syrian authorities say they are fighting armed groups, and that about 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed so far.

In recent months, army deserters have joined the opposition and targeted government forces.

A team of 165 monitors from the Arab League has been in Syria since December to monitor implementation of a peace plan that calls for an end to all violence, the removal of heavy weapons from cities and the release of all political prisoners.

Opposition groups have accused the Arab League mission of serving to cover up the crackdown on the protests, which has continued despite the presence of the observers.

Mr Assad said that there were no orders for security forces to fire on protesters.

"There is no order from any level about opening fire on any citizen. According to the law, nobody should open fire - only in self-defence or during a clash with an armed person."

Reacting to the speech, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, said Mr Assad's emphasis on restoring order "means he is backing away from his own pledge to the Arab League plan".

Anti-government demonstrators in Idlib, Syria - 6 January 2012 Anti-government protests have continued despite a heavy crackdown against them

Mr Ghalioun said the anti-terrorist measures announced by Mr Assad "undercut any Arab or non-Arab initiative to find a political solution to the crisis".

The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of anti-government activists, said 35 protesters had been killed on Tuesday, including 17 in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.

The UN says 400 people have been killed by security forces since the start of the observer mission. Last month the UN put the death toll since March at 5,000.

'No snap reforms'

In his speech, Mr Assad lashed out at the Arab League, which suspended Syria in November and imposed sanctions, saying: "We were surprised Arabs did not stand with Syria".

He said Arab countries that opposed Syria were under outside pressure, which was undermining their sovereignty.

But, he added, Syria would not "close its doors" to an Arab solution as long as "it respects Syria's sovereignty".

There were no obstacles to a multi-party system, he said, adding that it was a question of time.

Mr Assad said he welcomed the idea of expanding the government to include "all political forces".

A referendum on a new constitution could be held in March, he said, paving the way for elections in May or June.

Syria is ruled by the Baath party, dominated by President Assad's family and the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

He took power in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 40 years.

"I rule with the will of the people," he said. "If I give up power, I will do so with the will of the people too."

 

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  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 169.

    In short, I hope that the Syrian people can find the freedom that they're looking for and I hope that they can do it with as little bloodshed as possible, although unfortunately Assad will scorch the earth before that happens.

    Also, I hope we (the West) stay the heck out of it. It's their fight to win or loose on their own accord and it isn't our problem.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 160.

    A collapse of the Assad regime will bring chaos, like that which followed the invasion of Iraq, rather than the relatively smooth transition of Tunisia.

    Assad is indeed correct. The Syrian people have conspired to remove him. He's stating the obvious. In Syria, the will of the Syrian people, not the will of the 'West', will ultimately prevail!

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 52.

    If only someone in Syria could stand up and say "Syria for the Syrians - to hell with Iran, Hezbollah, Palestinians, Israel, Lebanon, interfering clerics, Saudi, the US and Russia. We have a fabulous country with a rich and vibrant culture. We will be a country that is for all Syrians. We will get our lost land back from Israel through negotiation and become a happy, prosperous secular democracy"

  • rate this
    -17

    Comment number 30.

    I believe that this Syrian Uprising is just another western "colour" revolution. I believe this because Syria is an the west's way in its bid to make war with Iran. What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime more compatible' with US interests in the region.
    We've seen it before; what's new?

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 28.

    Here we go again .....

    Just like Lybia, Iraq, Eygpt, Iran and Tunsia yet another dictator and his cronies hanging on to power, corruption and oppression.

    Let's hope the Syrian masses will prevail and over through thier tyrant as there seems to be only lip service from the Arab league, who no doubt have pictures of Gadaffi and Saddam still freah in thier minds.

    All change please .....

 

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