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Syrian President blames protests on 'conspiracy'

In a speech to parliament, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says foreign conspirators are to blame for the widening unrest in the country. He said it differed from events in other Arab countries.

Assad speaking on television

Syrians had eagerly awaited Assad's televised speech

Syria is facing a "test of unity," President Bashar al-Assad said in a televised speech on Wednesday. His country's enemies had taken advantage of the needs of the people to incite strife, he said.

"Syria today is subjected to a conspiracy from outside," Assad told parliament. He said its objective was to "fragment and bring down Syria."

In the unusually short speech, Assad blamed satellite television stations and other media for fabricating lies. He said Syria had overcome conspiracies targeting it before and would do so again. But some Syrians who have been demonstrating in the streets against his rule had legitimate demands, he added.

"We cannot say that everyone who went out is a conspirator," Assad said. "Let us be clear about that."

Syria is different

assad supporters on the streets

Assad supporters took to the streets of Damascus on Tuesday

The speech, interrupted by applause and cries of support, was his first address to the nation since the protests erupted on March 15. Human rights groups say more than 60 people have been killed in the crackdown on the protests.

Assad admitted that Syria was not isolated from the changes sweeping across the region.

"We believe these are positive changes in the region," he said. Syria was not isolated from the rest of the Arab world, but was not "a copy" of other countries.

"This conspiracy is different in shape and timing from what is going on in the Arab world," he said. "We are all for reform. That is the duty of the state. But we are not for strife."

Emergency law continues

Assad's speech came a day after his government resigned amid widespread protests calling for reforms. Yet the cabinet's resignation has been viewed as largely symbolic, as power is concentrated in the hands of the Assad family and security apparatus.

The president is expected to introduce a number of reforms, including the lifting of an emergency law that has been in place since the Baath Party came to power in 1963. However, he made no reference to its removal in his speech.

Assad took over power in 2000 from his father Hafez.

Author: Sabina Casagrande (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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