Assad warns of conspiracy, fails to lift emergency


DAMASCUS – President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday blamed conspirators for unrest sweeping Syria but failed to lift emergency rule or offer other concessions in his first speech since pro-reform protests erupted two weeks ago.
In a highly anticipated address to parliament that lasted almost one hour, Assad warned Syria’s “enemies” were targetting its unity but made no mention of any plans to lift the state of emergency. “We are all for reform. That is the duty of the state. But we are not for strife,” Assad said. “Reform is not a trend,” he added.
“When the people demand their rights, it is the state’s duty to fulfil their demands. “What we should watch out for is starting reforms under these circumstances right now, this passing wave.” Presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban had told AFP on Sunday that Syria had decided to lift emergency rule, which has been in force in the country since 1963, but could not elaborate on the “time frame.”
Assad is the only one empowered to lift the emergency rule. Assad, who appeared relaxed and exchanged jokes with parliamentarians, echoed that statement on Wednesday. “The measures announced Thursday were not made suddenly,” he said. “The emergency law and political parties law have been under study for a year.
“There are more, unannounced reforms … but giving a timeframe is a logistic matter,” Assad added. “When we announce it in such circumstances, it is difficult to meet that deadline.” Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad in 2000, has come under unprecedented domestic pressure over the past two weeks, with protesters defying emergency rule in public protests, emboldened by uprisings in the Arab world.
Assad, who warned Syria was going through a “test of unity,” said his country’s enemies had taken advantage of the needs of the people to incite strife in Syria, a regional foe of Washington’s ally Israel. “I know that the Syrian people have been awaiting this speech since last week, but I was waiting to get the full picture… to avoid giving an emotional address that would put the people at ease but have no real effect, at a time when our enemies are targeting Syria,” said the 45-year-old leader.
“This conspiracy is different in shape and timing from what is going on in the Arab world,” he added. “Syria is not isolated from the region… but we are not a copy of other countries.” Assad was widely expected to elaborate on a string of reforms announced last week, which came in response to the protests demanding more freedoms in the country ruled by the Baath party since 1963.