Assad greets supporters after breaking silence

"I belong to this street," Syrian president says; 8 killed including French journalist in Homs attack.

By REUTERS
January 11, 2012 18:40
2 minute read.
Syria's President Bashar Assad speaks in Damascus

Assad making speech 311 (r). (photo credit: REUTERS/Syrian TV)

BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar Assad, fighting 10 months of pro-democracy protests, greeted thousands of rapturous supporters in a Damascus square on Wednesday, only a day after breaking a six-month public silence.

In the latest violence, a French journalist was among eight people killed in the restive city of Homs, Syria's Addounia television said, adding that 25 people had been wounded.

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It also said the dead journalist worked for France 2 television and that one of the wounded was Dutch.

The death would be the first of a foreign reporter in Syria in 10 months of unrest. Most foreign media were barred from the country for much of that time.

A witness in Homs, who asked not to be named, said the casualties were caused by rocket-propelled grenades fired during a pro-Assad rally.

A smiling Assad, in a dark jacket and open-necked shirt, greeted thousands of rapturous supporters in a Damascus square, only a day after breaking a six-month public silence.

The crowd shouted "Shabiha forever, for your eyes, Assad", a reference to loyalist militiamen, mostly members of Assad's minority Alawite sect, who have gained a fearsome reputation for their part in suppressing protests against the president.

Assad's wife Asma and their two children joined him for his surprise appearance in the capital's central Umayyad Square.

"I belong to this street," Assad, 46, said, adding Syria faced foreign conspirators. "We will make this phase the end for them and their plans. We are going to win without any doubt."

His remarks followed a 100-minute speech on Tuesday in which he mocked the Arab League, vowed to hit "terrorists" with an iron fist and promised reforms, but with no hint that he would relinquish the power he inherited from his father in 2000.

The Arab League, which suspended Syria in November for failing to halt its crackdown on protests, sent an observer mission in December that has not stopped the bloodletting. It urged Syria this week to protect its observers.

The mission hit more trouble after one monitor accused Syria of war crimes saying the mission was a "farce", and the US ambassador to the United Nations said on Tuesday a UN official had told the Security Council the killings had gathered pace since the monitors arrived.

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In his speech the same day, Assad had scorned the Arab League for trying to discipline Syria, saying it had "failed for six decades to take a position in the Arab interest" and that "the Arab League without Syria suspends its own Arab identity".

The United Nations has said more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in unrest that erupted in March, inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere, while the authorities accuse armed Islamist militants of killing 2,000 members of the security forces.

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