Hannah Allam reports:
Fighting to save his family’s 40-year reign over Syria, President Bashar Assad on Monday described some anti-regime protesters as “saboteurs” and “germs,” but he pledged more reforms as the nationwide rebellion continued for a fourth bloody month.
Anti-government protesters in Syria and among more than 10,000 refugees in neighboring Turkey rejected Assad’s latest promises as vague and disingenuous, however, saying he offered no concrete steps or timetable to allow citizens a greater voice in one of the Arab world’s most repressive police states.
In Assad’s televised speech, his third since large-scale protests began in mid-March, the embattled leader struck a slightly more conciliatory tone, acknowledging the rising death toll in his regime’s crackdown. He announced a 100-member panel to draft reforms related to parliamentary election law and press freedoms.
Assad also suggested that he’d prosecute those responsible for the bloodshed and would support drafting a new constitution that could challenge his Baath Party’s monopoly on political life. Opposition activists long have demanded rival political parties.
“We must isolate true reformers from saboteurs,” Assad said, speaking from an auditorium at Damascus University, where an audience of supporters clapped and cheered.
Protesters weren’t appeased, reiterating their demand that the fall of the Assad dynasty is the only acceptable resolution to the crisis, although there’s no obvious successor in a country whose opposition has been intimidated and exiled for decades.