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Assad’s offer of reconciliation dismissed as empty promises

Syria's Assad offers roadmap to end conflict

By Agencies / 7 Jan 2013

A defiant President Bashar Assad presented what he described as a new initiative yesterday to end the war in Syria but his opponents dismissed it as a ploy to cling to power.

Appearing before cheering supporters who packed the Damascus Opera House, it was his first such speech since June and first public appearance of any kind since a television interview in November.

He called for national mobilisation in a “war to defend the nation,” describing rebels fighting him as terrorists and foreign agents with whom it was impossible to negotiate.

His new initiative, including a reconciliation conference that would exclude “those who have betrayed Syria,” contained no concessions and appeared to recycle proposals that opponents have rejected since the uprising began nearly two years ago.

The opposition National Coalition said the speech was an attempt to thwart an international agreement, backed by Western and Arab powers, that he must stand down.

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.”

Assad spoke confidently for about an hour before a crowd of cheering loyalists, who occasionally interrupted him to shout and applaud, at one point raising their fists and chanting: “With blood and soul we sacrifice for you, Oh Bashar!”

At the end of the speech, supporters rushed to the stage, mobbing him and shouting: “God, Syria and Bashar is enough!” as a smiling Assad waved and was escorted from the hall.

“We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word,” Assad said in the speech, broadcast on Syrian state television. “This war targets Syria using a handful of Syrians and many foreigners. Thus, this is a war to defend the nation.”

Saying that “suffering is overwhelming” the land, he added: “The nation is for all and we all must protect it.”

Independent media are largely barred from Damascus.

Britain denounced President Bashar Al-Assad’s speech calling for a conference of national dialogue to end the Syrian conflict as “beyond hypocritical.”

Hague said Assad’s first speech to the nation since June was full of “empty promises” and would “fool no-one.”

In an address to an ecstatic audience in a Damascus theatre, Assad described the opposition as “slaves” of the West and outlined a reconciliation plan aimed at resolving a civil war, which according to the UN has claimed more than 60,000 lives.

He called for a conference of national dialogue to be followed by a referendum on a national charter and parliamentary elections.

Assad also called on foreign powers to end their support for rebels seeking to bring down his regime.

Hague took to Twitter to vent his anger about the speech, writing: “Assad speech beyond hypocritical. Deaths, violence and oppression engulfing Syria are his own making, empty promises of reform fool no one.”

Prime Minister David Cameron earlier reiterated his calls for the Syrian leader to stand down.
“My message to Assad is go,” he told BBC TV. “He has the most phenomenal amount of blood on his hands.”

The Syrian president announced what he described as a peace plan yesterday, calling for a reconciliation conference with “those who have not betrayed Syria,” to be followed by the formation of a new government and an amnesty.

“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 a speech in central Damascus, his first public comments in months.

“We will not have dialogue with a puppet made by the West,” he said. He said that his government has “not found partners” for a political solution to the country’s 21-month crisis, in his first public speech in seven months.

“Just because we have not found a partner, it does not mean we are not interested in a political solution, but that we did not find a partner,” the president said to wild applause in the Dar Al-Assad for Culture and Arts in Damascus.

He said the conflict was not one between the government and the opposition but between the “nation and its enemies.”

 

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