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Middle east

Critics dismiss Assad speech as 'declaration of war'

Video by Stephen Carroll

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-01-06

Opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed his ‘political solution’ offered in a speech made Sunday in Damascus, saying it was just a declaration that he will continue his war.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected peace talks with his enemies on Sunday in a defiant speech that his opponents described as a renewed declaration of war.

Although the speech was billed as the unveiling of a new peace plan, Assad offered no concessions and even appeared to harden many of his positions. He rallied Syrians for “a war to defend the nation” and disparaged the prospect of negotiations.

“We do not reject political dialogue ... but with whom should we hold a dialogue? With extremists who don’t believe in any language but killing and terrorism?” Assad asked supporters who packed Damascus Opera House for his first speech since June.

It was his first public speech to an audience in six months. Since the last, rebels have reached the capital’s outskirts.

George Sabra, vice president of the opposition National Coalition, told Reuters the peace plan Assad put at the heart of his speech did “not even deserve to be called an initiative”:

“We should see it rather as a declaration that he will continue his war against the Syrian people,” he said.

“The appropriate response is to continue to resist this unacceptable regime and for the Free Syrian Army to continue its work in liberating Syria until every inch of land is free.”

A speech aimed at reassuring his own constituency

The speech was seen by many as a response to U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who has been meeting U.S. and Russian officials to try to narrow differences between Washington and Moscow over a peace plan. Brahimi also met Assad in Syria late last month.

“Lakhdar Brahimi must feel foolish after that Assad speech, where his diplomacy is dismissed as intolerable intervention,” said Rana Kabbani, a Syrian analyst who supports the opposition.

The United States, European Union, Turkey and most Arab states have called on Assad to quit. Russia, which sells arms to and leases a naval base from Syria, says it backs a transition of power but that Assad’s departure should not be a precondition for any talks.


Repetitions

Assad’s foreign foes were scornful and dismissive of the speech: “His remarks are just repetitions of what he’s said all along,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“It seems he’s locked himself up in a room and only reads the intelligence reports presented to him.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said “empty promises of reform fool no one”. In a Twitter message, he added: “Death, violence and oppression engulfing Syria are of his own making.”

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Brussels would “look carefully if there is anything new in the speech, but we maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition”.

Independent media are largely barred from Damascus.

Giving the speech in the opera house, in a part of central Damascus that has been hit by rebel attacks, could be intended as a show of strength by a leader whose public appearances have grown rarer as the rebellion has gathered force.

Critics saw irony in the venue: “Assad speech appropriately made in Opera House!” tweeted Rami Khouri, a commentator for Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper. “It was operatic in its other-worldly fantasy, unrelated to realities outside the building.”

Deaths


The United Nations says 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war, the longest and bloodiest of the conflicts to emerge in two years of revolts in Arab states.

Rebels now control much of the north and east of the country, a crescent of suburbs on the outskirts of the capital and the main border crossings with Turkey in the north.

But Assad’s forces are still firmly in control of most of the densely populated southwest, the main north-south highway and the Mediterranean coast. The army also holds military bases throughout the country from which its helicopters and jets can strike rebel-held areas with impunity, making it impossible for the insurgents to consolidate their grip on territory they hold.

 

(France24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-01-06

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