Assad brands opposition as ‘slaves’ of the West
European Union renews its calls for him to step aside
President Bashar al-Assad offered a road map to end Syria’s civil war in a rare speech yesterday in which he branded the opposition “slaves” of the West and told foreign powers to stop backing the rebels.
The main Syrian opposition grouping, the National Coalition, immediately rejected the plan while Britain described Assad’s speech, his first in public in seven months, as “beyond hypocritical”. The European Union renewed its calls for him to step aside.
Assad, speaking to wild applause from ecstatic crowds packed into a cultural centre in Damascus, outlined a plan he said was aimed at resolving the 21-month conflict which according to the UN has claimed more than 60,000 lives.
The first step, he said, was for foreign powers to end their support for armed rebels seeking to topple his regime.
“Right after that, our military operations will cease,” he said, adding, without elaborating, that a mechanism would be set up to monitor any such truce.
The government would then step up contacts to convene a national dialogue conference with opponents “inside and outside” the country, who do not take orders from abroad.
“We will hold dialogue with (those who are) the masters (of their decisions) not the slaves (of foreign powers),” Assad said.
The national dialogue conference would draft a charter which would then be put to a referendum. That would be followed by parliamentary elections and the formation of a new government, he said. Any resolution of the conflict, however, had to be purely Syrian and “there must be agreement at the national dialogue conference.”
“We are now faced with a state of war in every sense of the word, an external aggression more deadly and dangerous than conventional wars implemented through a handful of Syrians and many foreigners,” Assad said in the live televised speech.
He said the conflict was not one between the Government and the Opposition but between the “nation and its enemies” saying of his opponents: “This is not a loyal opposition but a gang of killers.
“The one thing that is sure that those who we face today are those who carry the Al-Qaeda ideology,” Assad said, repeating previous assertions that “foreign terrorists” are behind the uprising. The National Coalition, which insists Assad step aside before it is willing to enter dialogue, said his speech was directed at those ready to see him remain in power.
Assad will not accept “any initiative that does not restore stability to his regime and put him at the helm of control”, spokesman Walid al-Bunni said by phone.
“He wants negotiating partners of his own choosing and will not accept any initiative that could meet the aspirations of the Syrian people or ultimately lead to his departure and the dismantling of his regime.”