31 Mar 2011

Syrian president makes no major concessions

8:07 pm on 31 March 2011

In his first address since anti-government demonstrations broke out two weeks ago, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has failed to announce any concrete concessions.

Nor did he announce the lifting of a national state of emergency. Shortly afterwards, furious protesters took to the streets in the port city of Latakia. Troops are reported to have opened fire to disperse them.

Mr Assad told parliament Syria will defeat those behind a "plot" against his country, the BBC reports, and continue on the path of reform.

In a speech interrupted several times by pledges of support, he said people had been "duped" to go into the streets.

Buoyed up by huge officially encouraged demonstrations of popular support the day before, the BBC's correspondent says, Mr Assad did not look or sound like a leader who thought his days were numbered.

Addressing an adulatory parliament, and with crowds of regime loyalists chanting slogans of praise outside, he clearly believed he was talking from a position of strength.

He felt strong enough to admit that the state had failed to meet the daily needs of many citizens, and had failed to deliver more swiftly on political reforms that he said had been in the pipeline since 2005.

The Syrian government is reported to be studying the liberalisation of laws on media, and an easing of restrictions on civil liberties and political freedom is also expected.

A new cabinet - which will have the role of implementing the expected reforms - is expected to be named by the end of the week. The previous one resigned on Tuesday.