President Bashar Assad blames conspiracies for Syria unrest, reasserts regime’s authority

Foreign conspiracies, media distortions and the hand of Israel are to blame for uprisings
in Syria, President Bashar Assad insists in a speech to the nation. He does not offer to repeal
the emergency law that has kept his regime in power since 1963 but says reforms are necessary
while offering no specifics.
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times

7:35 AM PDT, March 30, 2011

Reporting from Cairo

On a stage once commanded by his brutal father, President Bashar Assad blamed foreign conspiracies for Syria’s unrest in a national speech Wednesday that sought to steel his family dynasty against a rebellion similar to those that have toppled regimes across the region.

It was to have been a defining moment for a president confronting a revolt in the provinces and power struggles within his inner circle. But Assad, who painted himself as a visionary and the tough son of his late father, Hafez, made no dramatic promises or sweeping concessions to end weeks of bloodshed.

The speech instead alluded to well-worn conspiracy theories, media distortion and the hidden hand of Israel for sparking uprisings that have killed more than 60 protesters. Assad said that the reforms demonstrators were calling for, including the lifting of emergency law and wider political freedoms, were among existing proposals that would be enacted this year.

“There are no hurdles to reforms, but there are delays,” said Assad, who received a standing ovation when he entered Parliament. He did acknowledge that the Syrian people “have demands that have not been met.”

Referring to Egypt and Tunisia, he added: “If we stay without reform we are on the course of destruction.”

But he offered no specifics and did not, as many were anticipating, repeal the emergency law, which has kept his Baathist party in power since 1963. The president, who in two weeks of protests has shifted between crackdowns and appeasement, such as raising salaries, said “it is my responsibility to secure the stability of the nation.”

It was unclear whether the address would stem revolts that have flared in cities in the north and south but have yet to threaten the capital, Damascus. That test will come Friday when anti-government protesters have called for large rallies across the country. They are likely to be met by crowds of pro-Assad demonstrators, whose appearances in recent days have been carefully choreographed.

The speech came a day after the prime minister and Cabinet resigned, which many Syrians believed would spur Assad into taking bold measures to prevent the country from sliding into the chaos that brought down the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. But the president seemed confident in his security forces and that his defiance to what he described as foreign agitators would rally the country.

“Syria is a target of a big plot from the outside…. Its timing, its format has been speeded up,” said Assad, as Syrians nationwide gathered around television sets and in town squares. He said some protesters were “duped” into the streets while others had legitimate demands he was working fix.

“We are with you,” shouted one lawmaker.

The president was suggesting that the revolutionary fervor sweeping the region “doesn’t need to be followed because Syria doesn’t suffer from the same problems,” said Ahmad Moussalli, a political science professor at the American University in Beirut. “He was rejecting the American domino theory, saying it doesn’t work in the case of Syria.”

Special correspondent Alexandra Sandels in Beirut contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

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  • nilewatch  On March 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    The Jerusalem Post in an article by Catherine Glick called for arming the Syrian Kurds 2 days ago.

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