Protesters swept into the streets in cities across Syria on Monday,
following a speech by President Bashar Assad that left anti-government
demonstrators frustrated, and officials in the European Union
threatening to widen sanctions against his regime.
Assad’s speech on Monday in Damascus, only the third he’s given since
the uprising began in March, offered vague promises of reform and a
“national dialogue,” but is not expected to placate protesters who have
taken to the streets across the country in a popular uprising against
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As of Monday, the regime’s violent crackdown of the uprising has left an
estimated 1,200 or more Syrians dead, with more than 10,000 refugees
currently in Turkey.
A witness who spoke toReuters by telephone on Monday reported seeing 300
protesters in the Damascus suburb of Irbin chanting “no to dialogue
with murderers,” while in Sunni districts of the coastal city of
Latakia, protesters reportedly chanted “liar, liar” in a rebuke to
In Hama, where the regime of Assad’s father Hafez Assad brutally crushed
a Muslim Brotherhood uprising, leaving thousands of civilians dead,
demonstrators took to the streets chanting “damn your soul, Hafez,”
Other post-speech demonstrations took place in the eastern city of Albu
Kamal on the Iraqi border, the southern city of Deraa and other nearby
towns, and at the Aleppo University campus, activists told Reuters.
Also Monday, European Union officials said they would widen sanctions on
Syria in response to the regime’s violent crackdown of the uprising,
with EU foreign ministers releasing a statement that read “The EU is
actively preparing to expand its restrictive measures by additional
designations with a view to achieving a fundamental change of policy by
the Syrian leadership without delay.”
The US also upped the ante on Assad, with US State Department
spokeswoman Victoria Nuland telling reporters “Bashar Assad has been
making promises to his people for weeks, for years. What’s important now
is action, not words.”
She added “with regard to Bashar Assad’s allegation that what’s going on
in his country is the result of foreign instigators – we’re just not
buying it,” in a rebuke of Assad’s claim that “foreign conspirators” and
“saboteurs” were responsible for the turmoil in Syria.
Assad’s speech, which stretched for well over an hour, had a defiant
tone, and attempted to portray the protests as being the working of
nefarious agents in the employ of unnamed foreign powers.
“I don’t think Syria has gone through a period in its history without a
conspiracy that was linked to other interests. Conspiracies are like
viruses, they increase and multiply and must be eradicated – but we
can’t become immune to them,” Assad said Monday.
Assad portrayed his country as one that has historically been subject to
repeated “conspiracies,” and blamed much of the unrest on “external
media pressure, the use of mobile phones by saboteurs, and the
misinformation propagated against the country.”
He also said that armed extremists are responsible for much of the bloodshed.
“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
Assad claimed that conspirators are “getting paid to film pictures and
send them to outside channels and pretend they’re from Syria,” as well
as “using peaceful protests as cover for their sabotage and
“They have hatred toward the people – they have the most sophisticated weapons and telecommunications systems,” Assad said.
He also accused his enemies of working to cause “mental sabotage” of the
Syrian people, which is “causing people to disrespect the institutions
and the nation.”
“Today we have young people – young children growing up with a lack of
respect for institutions and hatred of the state. This will be reflected
in the future, and the price will be high,” he said.
Assad repeatedly made promises of impending reforms that he will launch,
but gave no details or a timetable. He also did not specify what role
opposition groups would play in the future of Syria.
Assad called for the people of Syria to be patient for reforms to be implemented, saying “we can not just move in one jump.
What we are trying to do now, we are building the future – the future
will be our history, and it will impact on the thinking of future
In addition to promises of reform, the president addressed outrage
against corruption, saying “as for corruption, I have felt the need from
the people that it should be fought against and put an end to.”
He also described the need to stop the nepotism that he said is rife in the state.
In an oft-repeated refrain in the speech, Assad touted what he said are
plans for a “national dialogue” that will help Syria address the
problems facing it as a nation.
“We embark on the launch of a national dialogue that will bring together
people from all walks of life,” he said. “The whole future of Syria, if
we want it to succeed, should be based on this national dialogue in
which people from all walks of life will take part.”
Assad said the Syrian economy is “the biggest problem facing Syria,”
adding that the state must work to restore trust in the country’s
He also called on all refugees that have fled Syria to return home –
specifically those around the northwestern Syria town of Jisr al-
Shughour that has been the site of a violent army crackdown over the
past two weeks.
“I call for all those who left their town or village to come home,”
Assad said, also vowing that the state will not take vengeance upon
He said he would ask the justice ministry to expand amnesty for arrested protesters.
Towards the end of his remarks, Assad repeated his statement that Syria
“is not a football to be kicked around by other outside players,” and
issued another call for reform.
“Some people want to reduce Syria to a tribal state, with closed
borders. We need to reform our country from the inside and face the
plots and plans of malevolent people, and we need to strengthen our
domestic society against attacks against Syria. These attackers want to