January 11, 2012
January 11, 2012
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addressed a crowd of thousands of his supporters in Damascus on Wednesday, in a surprise public appearance following 10 months of unrest.
The crowd shouted “Shabiha forever, for your eyes Assad,” a reference to pro-Assad militiamen who have frequently fought pro-democracy protesters.
Assad’s wife Asma and their two children joined him for his surprise appearance in the capital’s central Umayyad Square.
“I belong to this street,” Assad said, adding that Syria faced foreign conspirators. “Without a doubt, we will defeat the conspiracy, which is nearing its end and will also be the end for (the conspirators) and their plans,” he told thousands of cheering supporters.
Assad’s appearance came after his speech on Tuesday in which he blamed foreign plotters for the deadly 10-month-old protests against his regime and vowed to crush their “terrorism” with an iron fist.
“I came here to draw from your strength. Thanks to you, I have never felt weak,” he said.
Amid the finger-pointing, activists said four civilians were killed on Wednesday near the central city of Hama and that loyalist troops were clashing with deserters.
Assad denied on Tuesday that security forces had orders to fire on civilian protesters and said the unrest would only end “when the flow of funds and weapons coming from abroad stops.”
Washington said Assad had used the speech to try to deflect the attention of his people from the fact that he had committed himself to end the violence.
“He’s doing everything but what he needs to do,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Meanwhile, attacks on Arab observers in Syria are raising doubts about the sustainability of the Arab League mission there, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
“The Arab League observers could not perform their duties as desired. They met many obstacles,” Abdessalem said at a press conference in Ankara Tuesday with his Tunisian counterpart Rafik Abdessalem.
“The attack in Latakia raised doubts about the sustainability of the mission,” he added.
Davutoglu was referring to an incident in which two Kuwaiti members of the Arab League team were injured in an attack on Monday by what the Gulf state said were unidentified protesters.
“We will go on supporting this mission of the Arab League,” the Turkish minister said, but added: “It is unacceptable that the bloodshed continues while the mission is still there.”
The Arab League monitors have been in Syria since December 26 to oversee a deal to protect civilians in the country, where the regime has waged a bloody crackdown on opposition protesters since mid-March.
The death toll in Syria, which the United Nations says exceeds 5,000, has kept on climbing despite the presence of the observers.
By AL ARABIYA WITH AGENCIES