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.
Timeline: Crackdown on protests in Syria
Analysis: Word of caution on Assad's fall
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
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
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
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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