AMMAN - Protesters took to the streets across Syria on Monday to denounce a speech by President Bashar Assad which they claim did not meet popular demands for sweeping political change, activists and witnesses said.
"No to dialogue with murderers," chanted 300 protesters in the Damascus suburb of Irbin, a witness told Reuters by telephone, with the slogans echoing in the background.
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In a speech at Damascus University dominated by security concerns, Assad accused "saboteurs" among protesters demanding and end to his 11-year rule of serving a foreign conspiracy to sow chaos.
Under mounting international pressure and facing wider street protests despite a military crackdown that has killed more than 1,300 people, Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite sect, said political reforms he had launched since the 3-month uprising would stabilize the country and diffuse grievances.
"I don’t think Syria has gone through a period in its history without a conspiracy that was linked to other interests," Assad said. "Conspiracies are like viruses, they increase and multiply and must be eradicated but we can't become immune to them."
Assad claimed that around 64,000 armed extremists are responsible for violence against the army and security services, and that "this extremist mindset has tried to infiltrate into Syria and harm the unity of Syria. This mindset has not changed; only the means and the faces have….this is the biggest obstacle to reform, we must contain this mindset and this extremist thinking."
But in the Sunni Sleibeh and Raml al-Filistini districts of the mixed coastal city of Latakia, where several Sunni neighbourhoods have been surrounded by troops and armor for weeks, protesters chanted "liar, liar."
"People were still hoping he would say something meaningful that would result in tanks and troops leaving the streets. They were disappointed and started going out as soon as Assad finished talking," one activist in Latakia said.
In the city of Hama, scene of a 1982 attack to crush an uprising led by
the Muslim Brotherhood that killed thousands of civilians during the
rule of Assad's father, Hafez Assad, protesters chanted "damn your soul,
Demonstrations also took place in the eastern city of Albu Kamal on the
border with Iraq, the southern city of Deraa and other towns in the
Hauran Plain, cradle of the uprising, now in its fourth month, and at
the campus of Aleppo University, activists said.