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Assad delivers a defiant speech, ignoring the people, the opposition and the international forces

President Assad spoke Sunday, amid rapturous chanting from loyalists that they are with him with "all their blood and soul." His speech was met by a roar of protest and mocking from Syrian citizens and opposition groups, as well as the international community. This was his first public speech in six months.The opposition says he lives in isolation and does not know what is going around him.
Assad delivers a defiant speech, ignoring the people, the opposition and the international forces


The opposition says he lives in isolation and does not know what is going around him.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's speech on Sunday seemed unlikely to end the civil war.


At the end of last year Mr. Brahimi said he only saw two choices for Syria: "Either there will be a political solution that will meet the ambitions and legitimate rights of the Syrian people, or Syria will turn into hell." In essence, President Assad responded to Brahimi's warning today by saying: "Then let it be hell."


Bashar al Assad spoke Sunday, amid rapturous chanting from loyalists that they are with him with "all their blood and soul."  His speech was met by a roar of protest and mocking from Syrian citizens and opposition groups, as well as the international community. This was his first  public speech in six months.


Assad laid out terms for a peace plan that keeps himself in power, ignoring international demands to step down and pledging to continue the battle "as long as there is one terrorist left" in Syria.


"What we started will not stop," he said, standing at a lectern on stage at the regal Opera House in central Damascus – a sign by the besieged leader that he sees no need to hide or compromise even with the violent civil war closing in on his seat of power in the capital.


Assad demanded that regional and Western countries must stop funding and arming the rebels trying to overthrow him.


"We never rejected a political solution … but with whom should we talk? With those who have an extremist ideology, who only understand the language of terrorism? "Or should we with negotiate puppets whom the West brought?" he asked.


"We negotiate with the master, not with the slave," he answered.


"Is this a revolution and are these revolutionaries? By God, I say they are a bunch of criminals," he said.


He stressed the presence of religious extremists among those fighting in Syria, calling them "terrorists who carry the ideology of al-Qaida" and "servants who know nothing but the language of slaughter."


He said the fighters sought to transform the country into a "jihad land."


"We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word," Assad said, "a war that targets Syria using a handful of Syrians and many foreigners. It is a war to defend the nation."


He said Syria will take advice but not dictates from anyone – a reference to outside powers calling on him to step down.


Reaction from the Syrian opposition


The opposition swiftly rejected Assad's proposals. Those fighting to topple the regime have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than his departure, dismissing any kind of settlement that leaves him in the picture.


The Syrian Coalition said the speech was a “pre-emptive strike against both Arab and international diplomatic solutions equally.”

Meanwhile,  the Coalition reaffirmed in a statement its “commitment to any solution that stops bloodshed and ensures the fulfillment of fundamental principles that have been agreed upon by most revolutionary and opposition forces, most important of which is the removal of Assad and the end of his security forces.”


"It is an excellent initiative that is only missing one crucial thing: His resignation," a veteran dissident and member of the opposition's Syrian National Coalition umbrella group, Kamal Labwani, told the Associated Press.


"All what he is proposing will happen automatically, but only after he steps down," Labwani told The Associated Press by telephone from Sweden.


The Local Co-ordination Committees said the difference between this speech and previous speeches is that al-Assad “has admitted for the first time that Syria is not living in peace. But the initiative he has suggested is a crippling blow to Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria.”


LCC spokesman Omar Idlibi adds that the Syrian regime “does not recognize the Syrian opposition coalition. Al-Assad meanwhile, keeps categorizing opposition groups into national and foreign-linked opposition. He has also based all his suggestions to resolve the crisis on his incumbent government’s structure while directing all efforts to fighting terrorism.”


Building the Syrian State Current, a major opposition group inside Syria, said the “image that President Assad portrayed in his speech of the 6th of January about what is happening in Syria does not reflect the reality of the ongoing struggle. The steps he presented do not constitute a solution that can lead to a political program capable of ending the crises in Syria.”


The current added in a statement that the “stages of the political solution that the president presented in his speech are not enough to form a political solution that transforms the country from its current state of autocracy and crisis to stability and democracy. Despite this, what he presented can form a general basis for an eventual solution, but only if it is not overseen and sponsored by the regime itself. Instead, the regime would take part in the solution as one party to the conflict alongside all other groups.”


Political analyst Fawaz A. Gerges, head of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, said Assad "did not come across as a leader under siege, nor as a leader whose regime is on the verge of collapse."


"He seemed determined that any political settlement must come on his terms, linking those terms with the Syrian national interest as if they are inseparable," he said.


Activists on the internet participated in condemning the speech. Sawsan Raslan, a feminist activist, wrote on her page on Facebook, “We, the people, shall not surrender, but the paper rulers do not want to learn from the history lessons.”


A leading member of the Damascus Declaration, Faiek Al Meer, said in his page on Facebook that choosing the Opera House as a venue for the speech is symbolic. It shows that last act of the ugly period of the two Assads.”


Activist told the Syrian Observer that the place was chosen for security reasons. All the roads that leads to the Umayyad Square, where the Opera House is located were blocked, and people were checked and body searched heavily.


International reaction


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."


British Foreign Secretary William Hague called Assad's speech "beyond hypocritical." In a message posted on his official Twitter feed, Hague said "empty promises of reform fool no one."


European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's office said in a statement that the bloc will "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."


German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on Assad to order his security forces to end their violence, rather than making vague expressions of "readiness for a ceasefire."


Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey said the speech was filled with "empty promises" and repetitive pledges of reform by a leader out of touch with the Syrian people.


"It seems (Assad) has shut himself in his room, and for months has read intelligence reports that are presented to him by those trying to win his favor," Davutoglu told reporters in the Aegean port city of Izmir on Sunday.


From the media


In an eye-catching headline, UK’s The Telegraph said that Bashar al-Assad's speech echoes Gaddafi's final, desperate rallies. The paper says there was more than a little of the Gaddafi about Bashar al-Assad's appearance on Sunday, and not just the theatre of a personality cult.

The paper reminds that reminiscent too was the rambling delivery, leaping incoherently back and forth between vague peace proposals and unremitting imprecations against the opposition: "al-Qaeda", "armed criminals", "foreign terrorists" were also prominent in Col Muammar Gaddafi's vocabulary.

Then there were the lapses into bizarre sentimentality, as when he announced: "I look at the eyes of Syria's children and I don't see any happiness" – something that would hardly surprise anyone who had watched the news over the last two years, the Telegraph added.


The Christian Science Monitor commented that the speech was a defiant one, “reminiscent of his earlier ones, those of his father, former President Hafez al-Assad – and of Muammar Qaddafi in the waning months of his failed effort to survive his own uprising in 2011.”


The paper said anyone going into a negotiation would want to do so from a position of strength. It's possible, the paper adds, that Assad is striking a maximalist, defiant tone in public while entertaining compromises behind the scenes. But there were no indications of even a moderation of tone towards his opponents, routinely described as "terrorists" or agents of foreign powers, which would usually be taken as a signal that some sort of overture was being made  


A gore to the President


At the end of the speech, Assad supporters rushed to shake hands with him. Assad’s bodyguards wanted to protect him. One bodyguard, unconsciously, hit Assad hard with his head on Assad’s cheek. Moments of awkwardness later prevailed until the bodyguards pulled Assad outside the stage.





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