Syria's Assad denounces 'puppet' opponents

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has delivered a rare TV address, denouncing his opponents as "enemies of God and puppets of the West".

He lamented the suffering of the people in the civil war, saying a "black cloud" of pain engulfed every corner.

Mr Assad also set out a plan involving a national dialogue conference and a referendum on a national charter.

The UN estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprising, which began in March 2011.

'Live and die'

The speech is Mr Assad's first public address since June.

He rejected the Syrian opposition movement as puppets fabricated by the West, and said that Syria wanted to negotiate with the "master not the servants".

Mr Assad said Syria had not rejected diplomatic moves but insisted it would not negotiate with people with "terrorist" ideas.

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His speech was interspersed with applause and chants from supporters in the opera house in central Damascus.

He said the opposition against him was not a revolution.

"That would need thinkers and be based on an idea," he said. "It needs leadership - who is the leader of this revolution?"

Mr Assad accused the rebels of stealing wheat from the people, depriving children of school and cutting off electricity and medical supplies.

He said: "Suffering is overwhelming Syrian land. There is no place for joy while security and stability are absent on the streets of our country."

Mr Assad called on every citizen to defend the country according to their means.

"The nation is for all and we all must protect it," he said.

He told them that waiting for help from others would "only lead the country to disaster".

Mr Assad set out a series of steps he said would provide a solution to the crisis:

  • Outside powers to stop arming what he called "terrorist groups"
  • The army would then halt military operations, while reserving the right to defend state interests
  • The government would then contact what he termed "Syrian individuals and political parties" to engage in a conference of national dialogue
  • The conference would try to establish a national charter that would be put to a referendum, leading to parliamentary elections and a new government
Mr Assad's last public comments were in November, when he told Russian TV he would "live and die in Syria".

Rebel advances

Since then opposition rebels have gained control of swathes of territory in northern Syria, and have formed a more inclusive leadership council which has been recognised by the US and the EU.

But opposition efforts to gain ground in and around major cities including Damascus have been met by stiff resistance and increasingly destructive air strikes.

On Saturday the UK-based activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported fierce fighting in Harasta and Daraya, suburbs of Damascus.

Diplomatic attempts to end the conflict in Syria have so far failed.

UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been pushing a plan approved at an international conference in June that would create a transitional government.

But the plan leaves President Assad's role unclear. The Syrian opposition has insisted that Mr Assad must step down for the conflict to end.

Mr Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a week ago that a negotiated solution was the only option.

- BBC

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