Syria's Assad calls for mobilisation
Syria President Bashar al-Assad said, “We will not have dialogue with a puppet made by the west.”
BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his first public appearance in months on Sunday, calling for a "full national mobilisation" to fight against rebels he described as al Qaeda terrorists.
"We meet today and suffering is overwhelming Syrian land. There is no place for joy while security and stability are absent on the streets of our country," Assad said in a speech at the opera house in central Damascus. "The nation is for all and we all must protect it."
The remarks were his first in public since a Russian television interview in November when he pledged to stay in Syria and fight to the death if necessary. A 21-month uprising against Assad has become a civil war that the United Nations says has killed 60,000 people.
A defiant al-Assad called for national mobilisation in a "war to defend the nation", describing rebels fighting him as terrorists and agents of foreign powers with whom it was impossible to negotiate.
Appearing in an opera house in central Damascus packed with cheering supporters, the Syrian leader delivered his first speech to an audience since June last year, and his first public comments since a television interview in November.
He unveiled what he described as a peace initiative to end the 21-month-old uprising. But the proposal, including a reconciliation conference that would exclude "those who have betrayed Syria", was certain to be rejected by enemies who have already said they will not negotiate unless he leaves power.
He spoke confidently for about an hour before a crowd of cheering loyalists, who occasionally interrupted him to shout and applaud, at one point raising their fists and chanting: "With blood and soul we sacrifice for you, O Bashar!"
At the end of the speech, supporters rushed to the stage, mobbing him and shouting: "God, Syria and Bashar is enough!" as a smiling Assad waved and was escorted from the hall.
"We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word," Assad said in the speech. "This war targets Syria using a handful of Syrians and many foreigners. Thus, this is a war to defend the nation."
"We meet today and suffering is overwhelming Syrian land. There is no place for joy while security and stability are absent on the streets of our country," Assad said. "The nation is for all and we all must protect it."