Tue, Aug 23, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Syria’s Assad confident about security

PROTESTS:The Syrian president again promised reforms, including parliamentary elections by February, but the opposition rejected his remarks as having ‘no value’

AP, BEIRUT

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was “not worried” about security in his country and warned against any foreign military intervention in a speech designed to portray confidence as the regime comes under blistering international condemnation for its crackdown on dissent.

The remarks on Sunday by Assad, who spoke during an interview with state-run television, came just days after the US and its European allies called for him to step down, and hours after a diplomat said Assad’s regime was “scrubbing blood off the streets” ahead of a UN visit.

“I am not worried about the security situation right now, we can say the security situation is better,” Assad said in his fourth public appearance since the revolt against his family’s 40-year rule erupted in the middle of March.

“It may seem dangerous, but in fact we are able to deal with it,” he said.

In a now-familiar refrain, Assad promised imminent reforms — including parliamentary elections by February — but insisted the unrest was being driven by a foreign conspiracy, not true reform seekers.

Assad said US President Barack Obama’s calls for him to give up power had “no value.”

The opposition rejected Assad’s remarks, saying they have lost confidence in his promises of reform, while his forces open fire on peaceful protesters.

Human rights groups say more than 2,000 people have been killed in the government’s crackdown on protests. The regime has unleashed tanks, snipers and pro-regime gunmen in an attempt to stamp out the uprising.

Assad warned against Libya-style military intervention, saying “any military action against Syria will bring repercussions that [the West] cannot tolerate.”

There have been no serious international plans to launch such an operation, in part because the opposition has said it does not want Western countries to interfere.

The 40-minute interview took place with two reporters seated around a table — a more casual atmosphere than previous appearances. It was the first time Assad agreed to take any questions about the events of the past five months, although the state-owned network is a mouthpiece for the regime. The reporters did not ask any direct questions about the protest movement or the military operations that have taken place in Syrian cities.

The opposition said the interview was meaningless.

Suheir Atassi, a prominent Syria pro-democracy activist who lives in hiding, posted on Twitter that Assad had given an “empty media appearance.”

Activists said security forces stormed the Khaldieh District in Homs on Sunday, carrying out a security raid and random arrests. They said the military also stormed districts in the northern Idlib Province.

Syria granted a UN team permission to visit some of the centers of the protests and crackdown to assess humanitarian needs, but activists and a Western diplomat accused the regime of trying to scrub away signs of the crackdown.

The team was scheduled to visit the coastal town of Latakia yesterday. Activists said authorities were cleaning up the city’s al-Ramel neighborhood after a four-day military operation earlier this week.

The Western diplomat confirmed that the area, which is home to thousands of Palestinian refugees, was being subjected to “a serious cleanup operation” in advance of the arrival of the mission led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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