Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Syria's President Assad vows to defeat 'plot'

President Bashar al-Assad: "This is a test for our unity"
President Bashar al-Assad has told parliament Syria will defeat those behind a "plot" against his country.
"Syria is a target of a big plot from outside - its timing, its format has been speeded up," he said.
People were "duped" to go into the streets, he said, in his first speech since anti-government demonstrations erupted two weeks ago.
More than 60 people have been killed during violent protests that began in the southern city of Deraa.
"Deraa is in the heart of every Syrian," Mr Assad said. It was on the front line of Syria's enemy, Israel he said.
He was interrupted several times by MPs enthusiastically pledging support.
Mr Assad said reforms were needed in Syria and leaders must listen to the voice of the people.
We have introduced reforms ourselves, but not because of pressure, the Syrian leader said. "Whoever wants reform, we are here," he said.
"Reform is not seasonal. There are no real hurdles to it."
Mr Assad had been expected to announce a lifting of the state of emergency in place for the past 50 years. He did not do so, but said a draft bill on that - along with other reforms - was taking too long.
On Tuesday, the country's cabinet resigned and huge crowds took to the streets to show support for Mr Assad.
There were reports that many of the supporters had been mobilised by the government.
Members of unions controlled by the Baath Party said they had been ordered to attend the rallies, according to Reuters.
A new cabinet - which will have the role of implementing the expected reforms - is expected to be named by the end of the week.
At a crossroads
Under the current emergency law, security forces have sweeping powers of arrest and detention.
The Syrian government is reported to be studying the liberalisation of laws on media and political parties as well as anti-corruption measures. An easing of restrictions on civil liberties and political freedom is also expected.
One human rights activist, Aktham Nuaisse, said the country stood "at a crossroads".
"Either the president takes immediate, drastic reform measures, or the country descends into one of several ugly scenarios. If he is willing to lead Syria into a real democratic transformation, he will be met halfway by the Syrian people," he told AP.
Analysts say there are divergent views within the Syrian leadership on handing the crisis - one group favours a crackdown on the dissent while the other prefers dialogue.
The unrest has become the biggest threat to the rule of President Assad, 45, who succeeded his father Hafez on his death in 2000.
The turmoil started after the arrest of several teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall in the southern city of Deraa, and quickly spread to other provinces.
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