Photo: syriaisfree via YouTube
After two months of silence, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addressed his country this morning in a defiant speech that blamed recent violence on armed extremists. He again claimed that the three-month uprising against the Assad regime is the work of foreign conspirators intent on ending his family’s 40-year rule.Assad did, however, make a distinction between the majority of the protesters and the “saboteurs,” calling for a “national dialogue” to address the country’s political and economic issues. It’s the first time Assad has acknowledged that some of the protesters may have legitimate demands.
Protests have sprung up across Syria in response to the speech, according to activists. Malath Aumran of the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group that organizes and reports on the protests, tweeted that 50 students at Aleppo University were arrested this afternoon when security forces attacked a peaceful demonstration at the mechanical engineering department.
Protests also broke out along the Turkish border, where refugees rejected Assad’s calls to return to Syria.
More than 10,000 Syrians fled to Turkey last week to escape the violence in the northwest. Syrian troops have reportedly ransacked and set fire to border villages this weekend, closing off routes to the border in an attempt to stem the embarrassing exodus of refugees.
The LCC has a map of today’s demonstrations here. Activists say as many as 1,500 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 arrested since the protests began in March.
The European Union dismissed Assad’s speech as “disappointing.” In a statement Monday, the EU foreign ministers said they will decide this week on expanding sanctions on the Syrian regime.
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