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Syria’s Assad vows change but not under ‘chaos’
Published on 21 Jun. 2011 12:59 AM IST
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: President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday that dialogue could lead to a new constitution and even the end of his Baath party’s monopoly on power but refused to reform Syria under “chaos.”
After widespread condemnation of a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests, the country was at a “turning point,” he said in a televised speech at Damascus University, vowing Syria would emerge stronger from the “plotting” against it.
He said dialogue was under way that could lead to a new constitution and raised the possibility of elections and an end to the ruling Baath party’s dominance, a key opposition demand, while warning the economy was on the verge of collapse.
He insisted that a reform process in Syria was “a total commitment in the interest of the nation.”
Offering his condolences to the families of “martyrs” from the unrest rocking the country since mid-March, Assad said there could be “no development without stability, no reform in the face of sabotage and chaos.”
The Syrian leader’s third speech to the nation since the protests broke out, punctuated by applause from the invited audience, was buoyed by a Russian pledge to block Western moves against him at the United Nations.
In an initial reaction, an opposition figure said the speech failed to specify concrete steps such as the army’s withdrawal from population centres.
The European Union, meanwhile, was preparing to expand sanctions against Assad’s regime, according to a draft resolution to be adopted by foreign ministers on Monday.
The EU has been looking at adding firms and a dozen people to a blacklist of 23 people targeted by an asset freeze and travel ban which already includes Assad and key allies.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the international community was looking for Assad to “respond to legitimate grievances” of his people, insisting “Assad should reform or step aside.”
The Syrian leader has made two previous interventions during the unrest.
On March 30 -- two weeks after the protests against his 11-year reign started -- he addressed parliament and called the demonstrations a “conspiracy” fomented by Syria’s enemies.
On April 16, he announced in a televised address that the emergency law in force for nearly 50 years would be abolished, expressed his sadness at the deaths of protesters and called for a national dialogue.
The opposition dismissed that offer as too little too late.
To step up the pressure on Assad to deliver real change, Western governments have been circulating a draft resolution at the Security Council that would condemn his crackdown on dissent.
But President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Russia was ready to use its veto to block any such move.

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