News / Middle East

Embattled Syrian President Blames 'Saboteurs' for Uprisings

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad delivers a speech in Damascus, Syria. Syria's embattled president says "saboteurs" are trying to exploit legitimate demands for reform in the country, Monday, June 20, 2011
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad delivers a speech in Damascus, Syria. Syria's embattled president says "saboteurs" are trying to exploit legitimate demands for reform in the country, Monday, June 20, 2011

Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad says that “saboteurs” are trying to hinder reform in Syria, but vows to hold new parliamentary elections in August. His Monday speech was the third time he has addressed the Syrian public since the country’s uprising began in March.

Assad’s speech at Damascus University drew applause from the crowd as he vowed to hold parliamentary elections in August, to work to create new political parties and to amend the constitution. After the 70-minute speech, thousands of  protesters took to the streets in several locales nationwide shouting for Assad to resign.

Assad insisted, however, that he would not implement change amid chaos.

Assad claimed that there is an outside plot or conspiracy to force Syria to change its policies and he added that its strategic location has made it a target for outside intervention.

He says that a number of factors point to foreign interference including Western media campaigns against Syria. He repeated the government’s position that “armed gangs” and “vandals” have attacked and killed Syrian security forces.

While expressing regret for civilian deaths during recent uprisings, Assad said Syria will come out stronger from the crisis.

The Syrian president also vowed to withdraw the army from towns that it recently entered near the Turkish border. He urged refugees who have fled to Turkey to return home and pledged that the government would not seek “revenge.”

But Assad's speech did little to stem worldwide criticism over his crackdown or to quell protests.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, said the speech was crafted to be deliberately vague and that none of his proposals appear credible.

Diab says (President Assad's) words are vague and that his promise to hold elections in August, during [the holy fasting month of] Ramadan, is not serious, He added that Mr. Assad's pledge to end martial law has come while he is increasing repression.

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