Continuing his customary practice of promises unfulfilled, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech today that was expected days ago and delivered none of the hoped forconcessions to protesters. The speech is here, English transcript is here.
Reports online are that after the speech a peaceful protest in Latakia was fired upon. A general commanded that the protesters be shot at. The army would not leave the civilians, they dragged away the bodies of the killed. I saw with my own eyes the bullet shells, I took and kept two in my bag as evidence. They said the security forces shot with automatic weapons. They said the bullets and weapons were Kalashnikovs. Very graphic video reportedly of today’s violence has been posted here. An Al Jazeera report from Syria paints a chilling prelude scene before their reporter was turned away. The reporter found a colonel looking down a long range rifle scope at a checkpoint set up with a view of the future protest scene, while everyone was still listening to Assad’s speech and the street was empty.
A list is being maintained of people imprisoned, missing and killed since the protests began. This very valuable work shows the name, date, occasionally picture, age, location, circumstance and source for each incident. The total number on the list is now at 275.
After Assad’s speech, Syrian state TV showed footage of Assad in Damascus, the site of yesterday’s hugely supportive rallies for him, only this time his army of security appeared breached by a rush from the crowd before the TV cut away. Report from News Tsar below.
Excerpts from the TRCB News translation:
I know that the Syrian people have been waiting for this speech since last week; and I intentionally postponed it until I have a fuller picture in my mind, or at least some of the main features of this picture, so that my speech should depart from the emotional rhetoric which puts people at ease, but does not change anything or make any impact at a time when our enemies work every day in an organized, systematic and scientific manner in order to undermine Syria’s stability.
Protests are a foreign conspiracy
Our policies had been based on development, opening up, and communicating directly between myself and the Syrian people.
Syrian foreign policy is based on holding to our national rights.
Syria is facing a great conspiracy whose tentacles extend to some nearby countries and far-away countries, with some inside the country.
Some satellite T.V. stations actually spoke about attacking certain buildings an hour before they were actually attacked. How did they know that? Do they read the future? This happened more than once. Then, things started to become clearer. They will say that we believe in the conspiracy theory. In fact there is no conspiracy theory. There is a conspiracy.
We are concerned with the outcome because the last stage for them is for Syria to get weaker and disintegrate, because this will remove the last obstacle facing the Israel?s plans.
They used the satellite T.V. stations and the internet but did not achieve anything. And then, using sedition, started to produce fake information, voices, images, etc. they forged everything. Then they started to use the sectarian element. They sent SMSs to members of a certain sect alerting them that another sect will attack them. And in order to be credible, they sent masked people to neighborhoods with different sects living in them, knocking on people?s doors and telling each that that the other sect has already attacked and are on the streets, in order to get a reaction. And it worked for a while. But we were able to nip the sedition in the bud by getting community leaders to meet and diffuse the situation. Then they used weapons. They started killing people at random; because they knew when there is blood it becomes more difficult to solve the problem.
Reforms will continue at the same glacial pace
If we say that [reforms] were made under the pressure of a certain condition or popular pressure, this is weakness. And I believe that if the people get the government to bow under pressure, it will bow to foreign pressure. The principle is wrong. The relationship between the government and the people is not that of pressure or based on pressure.
I will quickly review the reform process since 2000. It is true that we talked about this at the time but only in headlines. The picture was not very clear about the shape of that reform. Two months after the speech I gave in this magnificent place, the Intifada happened and the conspiracy against the resistance started, and pressures mounted. Then there was 09/11. Islam, Muslims, and Arabs were all accused. There was the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Syria was supposed to pay a price for its position to invasion. You know what happened in Lebanon in 2005, and later the war of 2006 and its repercussions, and the war against Gaza at the end of 2008. So, the whole period was that of continued pressure. What added to the problems was that we had four years of drought which damaged our economic program.
We did not focus much on political issues like the emergency law and the party law. The reason is that when there are human issues at stake, they cannot be postponed.
… putting a time frame is purely technical. I might put a time frame which is shorter than what is necessary and in that case the pressure of time will affect quality. I think our duty is to provide the Syrian people with the best, not with the fastest. We want to proceed quickly, but we do not want to be hasty.
Protesters will be fought
The Holy Quran says, sedition is worse than killing, so all those involved intentionally or unintentionally in it contribute to destroying their country. So there is no compromise or middle way in this. What is at stake is the homeland and there is a huge conspiracy. We are not seeking battles. The Syrian people are peaceful people, loving people, but we have never hesitated in defending our causes, interests and principles, and if we are forced into a battle, so be it.