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Syrian president blames 'foreign conspiracy' for unrest

Bashar Assad also warned that ‘terrorism’ would be tackled with an “iron fist” in today’s televised address.

President Bashar Assad delivering his address in Damascus today.
President Bashar Assad delivering his address in Damascus today.
Image: AP Photo/Syrian State Television via APTN

SYRIA’S PRESIDENT has accused foreign conspirators of trying to bring down his government and insisted that state security forces were not ordered to shoot unarmed protesters.

In a speech delivered today in Damascus, President Bashar Assad there was an “external conspiracy” to destabilise Syria.

He warned that terrorism, which he appeared to equate with protesters in his speech, would be tackled with an “iron fist” – an echo of his government’s comments from last weekend.

Assad also refused to step down and criticised the Arab League’s suspension of Syria from the group over its violent crackdown on protesters.

New constitution

Syrian state media SANA reports that Assad pledged to put a new Syrian constitution before a referendum in the coming months. The president insists, however, that reforms are not being introduced because of pressure on his government.

The UN said before Christmas that it estimates over 5,000 people have been killed in that crackdown. Today’s televised interview was the president’s third since protests calling for political reform began in mid-March, according to the BBC.

According to the Guardian’s Middle East editor Ian Black, Assad said that a recent interview with ABC in which he denied feeling any guilt over the deaths of protesters at the hands of his government’s security forces was part of a hostile media campaign towards Syria.

In that televised interview, Assad said that no one had given an order to kill or attack protesters, saying: “We don’t kill our people. Nobody, no government in the world kills its people.” Today, he stood by that statement, saying that no order was given for the authorities to fire on unarmed people.

He also repeated his earlier statement that he would leave office if that was the will of the people.

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A delegation of Arab League observers is currently in Syria to assess whether the government has followed through with its pledge to cease the crackdown against protesters. However, the observers’ mission has been criticised by human rights groups who say that it is detracting attention from human rights abuses in Syria and delaying possible intervention by the UN Security Council.

The Arab League said on Sunday that it would send more observers to Syria.

- Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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