Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Syrian President Holds "Iron Fist" & Rally
But can't here the Syrian people
Embattled Syrian president says victory is near
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, battling 10 months of deadly protests against his rule, has called for general elections and said "victory is near" if Syrians remain steadfast.
In his 100 minute speech - his first in months - 46-year-old Mr Assad said "foreign planning" was behind the uprising but outside forces "did not find a foothold in the revolution that they had hoped for".
He also called for a referendum on a new constitution to be held in March, followed by general elections.
"After legislation has been drawn up and a constitution ... we will call a referendum ... in the first week of March," he said.
"Elections must be linked to a new constitution. They could be at the start of May."
But Mr Assad gave no sign that he was willing to relinquish the power he inherited on his father's death in 2000 and which his family has held for more than four decades.
"I am not someone who abandons responsibility," he declared.
"I am in this position because of support from the people and if I leave, it will be because of the desire of the people."
His speech, delivered at Damascus University and broadcast on Syrian television, came after the UN put the death toll from the uprising at at least 5,000, and new reports emerged of more bloodshed.
In the latest violence, Syrian forces shot dead 10 people, most of them anti-Assad protesters, in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Gunfire from a checkpoint also killed a man in Homs, it added.
Syrian authorities say foreign-backed armed "terrorists" have killed 2,000 members of the security forces.
Despite the high casualty toll, Mr Assad denied any policy to shoot demonstrators.
"There is no cover for anyone. There are no orders for anyone to open fire on any citizen," he said.
But Mr Assad stressed his priority was to restore order in Syria, and that could only be achieved by "hitting terrorists with an iron fist".
"There is no tolerance for terrorism or for those who use weapons to kill," he said.
"Regional and international parties who are trying to destabilise Syria can no longer falsify the facts and events.
"They turned to assassinations ... with regional and international media coverage.
"After all their attempts failed, the role of foreigners emerged."
Mr Assad also hit out at the Arab League, which has had a widely criticised observer mission in Syria since December 26, charged with overseeing a plan to end the violence.
He asked what right governments, including the absolute monarchies of the Gulf, had to lecture Syria about democracy or reform.
"The first parliament in Syria was in 1917. Where were they then?" he asked.
"Their situation is like a doctor who smokes and recommends to his patient to give up smoking while he, the doctor, has a cigarette in his mouth."
However, Mr Assad said he would not "close doors" to Arab solutions as long as "it respects Syria's sovereignty".
The struggle in Syria, Iran's only Arab ally, has alarmed its neighbours, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and Iraq.
"The situation in Syria is heading towards a religious, sectarian, racial war, and this needs to be prevented," Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Arab League has condemned attacks on its monitors in Syria, after if was reported that 11 members of a team of monitors were injured when their vehicles were attacked this week by protesters in the port city of Latakia.
"Eleven Arab League monitors among a group visiting Latakia [on Monday] were wounded when protesters attacked vehicles transporting the team. No side fired shots," the head of the League operations room in Cairo, Adnan al-Khodheir, told Reuters, adding that injuries were "very light" and no one was admitted to hospital.
"This incident did not affect the work of the monitors in Syria," he said.
Syria's opposition on Monday denounced Arab League efforts and called on the United Nations to take charge of attempts to end the regime's bloody crackdown on dissent that the world body says has cost more than 5,000 lives.
Assad Holds Pro-Government Rally
Damascus, Syria (CNN) -- Syria's president turned up at a boisterous pro-government rally in Damascus Wednesday, exhorting his followers and again underscoring his view that the months of popular unrest in his nation are the result of a "conspiracy."
"We will triumph over this conspiracy," President Bashar al-Assad told a cheering, clapping and flag-waving throng.
"I will not say that the country is confronting a major conspiracy because you are here to stand up against it," he said. "These are the final phases of the conspiracy, and we will make sure that we will stand up victorious."
His appearance at the rally comes a day after al-Assad delivered a defiant televised speech Tuesday, strongly defending his government's reforms and blaming his country's unrest on "external conspiracies."
The speech and Wednesday's rally occurred during an Arab League fact-finding mission to see if the Syrian government is adhering to an agreement to end the violence. One former League observer is saying the mission is providing the regime "cover for more killing."
Al-Assad made the appearance amid widespread grass-roots and international anger over his government's 10-month-long crackdown against peaceful protesters.
Reports of carnage mount every day despite the presence of observers from the Arab League in the country and international pressure for the Syrian regime to stop the crackdown. Opposition activists groups have said the number of deaths has topped 6,000.
Four members of the Syrian army were killed when a bomb exploded in a military bus Wednesday, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said. Eight others were injured in the explosion in the Damascus countryside, according to SANA. It blamed the attack on an "armed terrorist group."
Meanwhile, clashes between Syrian government forces and defectors on Wednesday left four people dead, including a first lieutenant who defected, an opposition activist group said. The clashes took place when government forces stormed a village in Hama province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory also said one person was killed by Syrian security gunfire in the embattled city of Homs on Wednesday.
Opposition activist groups blame the violence in Syria on al-Assad's government, but al-Assad continues to blame the bloodshed on terrorists.
Al-Assad -- who rarely makes public appearances -- made a splash when he showed up at the rally. An anchor said that his presence "caught us off guard, quite surprising."
Standing next to Syria's first lady, Asma al-Assad, the president lauded his supporters. The crowd was chanting "Abu Hafez, Abu Hafez" a reference to Bashar's father, late president Hafez Assad.
"I came here so we can put our hands together, to build the great Syria that we love, that we believe in. Together, we will work together and walk forward with the reforms," Bashar al-Assad said.
He said he wanted to "shake hands" with everyone in the crowd and in every city in Syria. He made reference to the fact that he has been criticized for not talking directly to the people.
"I wanted to be with you so I can have the power from you, because of you, in confronting these obstacles ahead of us. I salute you as you come here for support, coming from your mosques, your churches, to support your great nation, your military, your institutions," he said.
A female voice also addressed the crowd saying, "We pledge our allegiance to stand by you, the father, the leader and by the great Syrian military, and we pledge that the spirit of the resistance will stay alive forever in our hearts."
The Syrian TV then played a classic national song by late Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez, who was a staunch supporter of Egypt's Nasserite regime during the last century. It is called "My homeland is the great Arab world." It was clear that Syrian state TV was trying to reach out to the rest of the Arab world.
The Arab League has called on Damascus to stop violence against civilians, free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities and allow outsiders, including the international news media, to travel freely around Syria.
Arab League officials have pledged to add to their 165 observers already in the country. But the group's mission has been met with skepticism from both al-Assad supporters and anti-government activists.
Anwar Malek, an Algerian Arab League observer who withdrew from the monitoring team, told Al-Jazeera, he quit because he found himself "serving the regime, and not part of an independent monitoring body."
"How? By providing the regime cover for more killing," he said.
"It's practicing the same activities more blatantly, it's even killing its supporters to convince the Arab monitors that the regime is just doing their job to provide security and to gain sympathy. I felt like I myself would become a government thug, that's why I've quit."
Malek said he spent 15 days in the restive city of Homs and saw "shameful scenes." He said he found people in detention facilities in a "deplorable and tragic state."
Asked about a comment from the head of the monitoring mission that "things weren't as bad as you are saying right now," Malek said he believes the mission chief "wants to hold the stick from the middle, in order not to upset the authority or any other party." The mission chief is Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammad Ahmad Mustafa al-Dabi.
"He picks his words so not to upset anybody," Malek said.