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Middle east

Assad blames unrest on saboteurs, pledges reform

Video by Shona BHATTACHARYYA

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-06-20

In a speech on Monday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed religious fanatics for months of anti-regime protests and said reform was not possible while Syria was in "chaos", but called for national dialogue on constitutional changes.

In a televised address on Monday, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad denounced what he called foreign “microbes” that have invaded his country to incite unrest and appealed to Syrian citizens to support a process of national dialogue that could lead to constitutional changes by the end of the year.

“The saboteurs are like microbes that we cannot eliminate, but that require that we reinforce our immune system,” said Assad, who trained as a medical doctor. The Syrian leader took a resolute stance in the face of three months of popular unrest and the threat of expanded sanctions from the European Union.   

In his third and longest speech since protests began in March, Assad repeatedly called on citizens to end widespread demonstrations against the government and engage in a dialogue with the authorities that could set new elections or bring an end to the ruling Baath party's dominance.

The potential political reforms would “revise certain articles [of the constitution], including Article 8, or revise it as a whole”, Assad said, in reference to his party’s constitutionally inscribed control of the state and society, thus opening the way for the formation of other political parties.

Speaking at Damascus University, the Syrian president also set a timetable for possible reform, saying that parliamentary elections would be held in August and that lawmakers would vote through a package of reforms by September.

Stability paramount

But Assad insisted that reforms would not happen in Syria while the political crisis continued. "No development without stability, no reform in the face of sabotage and chaos," Assad said, adding that the violence in the country could be pinned on a group of 64,000 “saboteurs” and “terrorists” who were guided by religious fanaticism.

The president conceded that some people had legitimate complaints, and that reform has been slow to come.

He also noted the wave of Syrian refugees that have fled over the border with Turkey and their fears that the government may be planning revenge attacks on them. He encouraged the refugees to return and said they would not be targeted.

Assad acknowledged for the first time the Syrians who had died since the protests began, offering his condolences to the “martyrs” who had fallen. But Assad was also steadfast in his support of the army and its actions. “The sons of the army are brothers of every Syrian citizen," he said. "The army has always been about honour and dignity."

 

Date created : 2011-06-20

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