Bashar al-Assad has again blamed “foreign conspiracies” supported by Arab states for the crisis in Syria, in which thousands of people have died in the last 10 months. The country’s enemies would be defeated soon, he said.
The president’s fourth speech since the uprising began in March combined defiance with talk of ongoing and future reforms and warm praise for state security forces fighting what he called “terrorism”.
It gave no hint of any flexibility that could break the deadlock between his regime and the opposition.
“God willing, we will be victorious,” Assad said at the end of an often rambling 100-minute address at Damascus University, to standing applause and cheers of support from an invited audience. It had been billed by aides as an attempt to regain the initiative – and seemed certain to have failed to do that.
“We are nearing the end of the crisis,” he said. “We should stand united … Victory is near because we can be steadfast. We know our enemies.”
The speech came as two Kuwaiti members of an Arab League monitoring team were slightly injured in an attack by “unidentified demonstrators” on their way to the port city of Latakia, Kuwait’s state news agency reported.
Assad mentioned holding a referendum on a new constitution in March to be followed by parliamentary elections in June, but there was no mention of inviting opposition groups to be involved or, crucially, of him relinquishing power, in line with the demands of many of his own people as well as from the US and other western governments.
It was Assad’s first public appearance since Arab League monitors entered Syria last month, an idea he claimed was his own while attacking the pan-Arab body as a failure. There was no mention of withdrawing forces from cities or freeing thousands of prisoners in line with an agreement between Damascus and the league.
“The external conspiracy is clear to everybody,” he said. “Nobody can be fooled any more. The veil has fallen away.”
Opposition sources said 23 people were killed by security forces on Monday. A spokesman for the Syrian National Council called Assad’s speech “farcical” and a sign of the “impending collapse” of the regime.
Assad complained of an “unprecedented propaganda campaign” against Syria and defended severe restrictions on access for the international media. He claimed that an interview with the US network ABC News last month – in which he gave a disastrous performance and claimed he was not responsible for the army — had been “fabricated”.
Assad alluded to unspecified “mistakes” that had been made but warned of chaos of the kind that had been seen in Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. “This is a race between terrorism and reforms,” he warned.
Syrians commenting on the speech on social media networks reacted with a mixture of incredulity and contempt, especially to the president’s claims that government forces were not allowed to open fire on peaceful protesters. Previous speeches by Assad were similarly dismissed as having offered too little and too late.
Ian Black, The Independent