7 Jan 2013

Assad denounces opposition as puppets of the West

7:34 am on 7 January 2013

Syria's president Bashar al-Assad has again condemned the opposition as foreign terrorists in his first live national address since June last year.

On Sunday he denounced his opponents as "enemies of God and puppets of the West" and set out a plan for peace involving a national dialogue conference and a referendum on a national charter.

The president spoke for almost an hour in front of more than 1000 supporters gathered inside the Damascus Opera Hall on Sunday.

"We will continue to fight terrorism," he told the audience, which appeared to take great pleasure in each of his words, the BBC reports.

Mr Assad repeated his assertion that the opposition in Syria was being led by "foreign terrorists organised by al Qaeda".

He offered to hold talks with an opposition acceptable to him, not with what he called puppets created by the West.

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

He said: "There are those who seek to partition Syria and weaken it. But Syria is stronger... and will remain sovereign... and this is what upsets the West."

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

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

He accused the rebels of stealing wheat from the people, depriving children of school and cutting off electricity and medical supplies, and called on every citizen to defend the country according to their means.

As he ended his speech, dozens of supporters surged onto the podium to try to embrace him. The president struggled to leave the stage.