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Protests in Syrian city Latakia after Assad speech
By REUTERS AND JPOST.COM STAFF
03/30/2011
Hundreds take to the streets as security forces confront demonstrators; Assad claims Syria has become the target of an external plot.
 
AMMAN - Hundreds of people took to the streets on Wednesday in the port city of Latakia chanting "freedom" after President Bashar Assad made a speech playing down unprecedented protests against his rule.

Several residents said they heard shots fired in the al-Sleibeh old district of the city, where one of at least two demonstrations took place, as security forces confronted the demonstrators.

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In his first speech to parliament since demonstrations erupted two weeks ago, Assad claimed his country has become the target of an external plot.

"Syria has become the target of a big plot from outside," Assad claimed. "I am speaking to you at an extraordinary moment...it is a test of our unity. These tests repeat themselves due to plots threatening our homeland."

Assad, widely expected to speak about reforms, including abolishing the emergency law that has been in place in Syria for nearly fifty years, did not mention any actual changes in existent laws. He assured his people that security forces "would not attack protesters."

The Syrian president's began his nearly half-hour speech to chants of "We defend you with our blood, life," and was occasionally interrupted by chants from different members of parliament, such as one who called out "you are steadfast, generous to the poor and good people defend us with strength, the free people you have heard them, we are with you, at the time, everywhere, the people is with you, God is with you."

Speaking on the events and people of Deraa, where some of the bloodiest protests have taken place, Assad said that though Deraa "is not in the heart of Syria it is in the hearts of Syrians," adding that the border city "is in the forefront in confronting the Israeli enemy and defending the nation."

"No one can be defending and conspiring at the same time," he said, "this cannot happen. The people of Deraa do not have any responsibility in what has happened. We are all with Deraa."

"Whoever is part of the Syrian nation always stands tall," Assad added. "Our enemies act every day in an organized and public matter in order to harm Syria."

Assad said the protesters are "smart in their timing, but stupid by choosing a country that will not be defeated by any step."

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The Syrian president mentioned more than once a mixture of "internal and foreign" factors influencing the protests, alluded to what he called the "domino effect" pursued by the "past administration in the United States," adding that the former US president's intentions backfired and had the "opposite effect" in the region.

"What has happened so far only strengthens Syria," he said, adding that "Syrian people are peaceful but will not hesitate to defend their causes and principles if the must."
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