Assad calls for mobilisation against ‘puppet’ rebels
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In his first public appearance in months, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called for “full national mobilisation” against rebel "terrorists" seeking to divide the country and said there was no room for dialogue with Western "puppets".
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his first public appearance in months on Sunday, calling for a “full national mobilisation” to fight against rebel fighters that he described as al-Qaeda terrorists.
Assad, ignoring international demands for him to step down, described the conflict in Syria as a struggle between the Syrian people and “terrorists” who are trying to divide the country. The defiant president said there was no room for dialogue “with a puppet made by the West”.
"Just because we have not found a partner, it does not mean we are not interested in a political solution," the president said.
FRANCE 24 correspondent in Beirut, Lucy Fielder, said Assad’s speech was a “major disappointment” to the activists who still held hope that he might step down, because “these were not the words of a man who was intending to leave.”
The Syrian leader presented what he called a peace plan that includes proposals for a new constitution, national dialogue and reconciliation “with those who have not betrayed Syria”, as well as an amnesty after the winding down of military operations.
"The first stage of a political solution would require that regional powers stop funding and arming [the opposition], an end to terrorist operations and controlling the borders," he said, in his first formal comments since a June address to parliament.
Assad, however, says his initiative can only take root after regional and Western countries stop funding the groups of “murderous criminals'' and jihadi elements fighting his regime.
He denied that there was a revolutionary uprising against his family's decades-long rule.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition rejected President Assad’s reconciliation plan, spokesman Walid al-Bunni told AFP by phone.
"We said at the founding of the National Coalition that we want a political solution, but ... there are now over 60,000 martyrs. The Syrians did not make all those sacrifices in order to bolster this tyrannical regime," he said.
“This is a conflict between the country and its enemies, between the people and criminals, between citizens with their desire to live, and earn a living and those who wish to deprive them of their bread,” he said.
Assad also addressed the safety concerns of Syrian citizens, who have endured almost two years of unrest. “We meet today and suffering is overwhelming Syrian land. There is no place for joy while security and stability are absent on the streets of our country,” Assad said in his speech, at the Dar al-Assad Centre for Culture and Arts in central Damascus. “The nation is for all and we all must protect it.”
The remarks were his first in public since a Russian television interview in November when he pledged to stay in Syria and fight to the death if necessary. The 21-month uprising against Assad has become a civil war that the United Nations says has killed 60,000 people.
Following Assad’s address, the European Union reiterated its position that Assad must step down to allow for a political transition.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called Assad’s comments “beyond hypocritical” in a message on Twitter. “Deaths, violence and oppression engulfing Syria are his own making, empty promises of reform fool no one," he said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that Assad’s speech was “yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people’s goal of a political transition.”
(FRANCE 24 with wires)