Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addressed the nation from the parliament on Wednesday in what appeared to be a carefully staged production, with huge rallies of support and wild applause.
Legislators chanted as he entered, "God, Syria and Bashar only!" and "Our souls, our blood we sacrifice for you Bashar."
Estimates of how many people have died to date in clashes between protesters and government security forces since a government crackdown began March 18 vary greatly.
Activists on social networking sites claim that more than 130 people have been killed. Human rights groups have told reporters that more than 60 have died. The government estimate stands at 30. But at least 200 have been wounded in recent demonstrations.
Deflect Attention to Israeli Conspiracy, PA ‘Cause’
One of Assad’s first moves was to express the hope that Arab unrest across the region would bear fruit in the Palestinian Authority’s fight against Israel, while carefully distancing Syrian citizenry from the PA sector.
"We believe and hope that these transformations will change the track of the Palestinian cause, to further commit to the rights and [not make] compromises… We, in Syria, have different characteristics, domestically and on the external level," he said.
He blamed "foreign conspirators" for the unrest in his own country, saying the protests were aimed at enforcing an "Israeli agenda."
He also accused satellite TV stations and other news outlets of telling lies.
‘Reforms Are Not a Trend’
Assad vowed to make reforms, saying, "If I did not want to make reforms, I wouldn’t have announced them in 2005." But Assad gave no specifics or timetable saying only, "That will be discussed."
The only information he announced was the establishment of a new People’s Council and the appointment of a new administration. Other measures he said would be announced by a new cabinet, including plans to enhance national unity and fight corruption."
Assad added that everything is open for discussion – employment, salaries, national unity and corruption. However, reforms could take up to 10 years. "We have to understand that ‘reform’ is not the hip trend of the season," he cautioned. "The important thing is to be fast, but not impulsive.
"Ending Strife ‘A National Duty’
The country’s state of emergency, in force since the Baath party seized power in 1963, was allegedly lifted Sunday, March 27.
The despised emergency law allows the government to arrest citizens without filing charges, among other moves.
However, pan-Arab satellite television network Al Jazeera noted that although presidential adviser Bouthaina Sha’aban said the emergency law would "absolutely" be lifted, he failed to give a timetable, as did the Syrian president.
Assad fired his cabinet en masse on Tuesday in response to the demands of protesters. The move leaves the president without a government until at least the end of the week, although the cabinet will continue to run the country’s affairs until its replacement has been appointed.
"Sons and daughters of the country, you have expressed your will by demonstrating yesterday [to support the regime,]" he told the nation. "Ending strife is a national duty. And those who do not work to end strife are supporting it."
US Won’t Intervene
The United States will stay out of Syria, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Speaking in an interview broadcast on the CBS News program "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer," Clinton said the situation in Syria was very different from that in Libya.
"Each of these situations is unique," Clinton said. "Certainly we deplore the violence in Syria, we call as we have on all of these governments … to be responding to their people’s needs, not to engage in violence, permit peaceful protests and begin a process of economic and political reform."
Australians Warned to Avoid Syria
The country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade this week strengthened its warning against travel to Israel’s northeastern neighbor.
"Further protests and violent clashes are possible in any part of Syria," the warning reads. In addition, the government warned its citizens who are already in the country to exercise extreme caution. "Australians in Syria should avoid all protests and large gatherings as they may turn violent," the DFAT wrote, adding there is also a high risk of terrorist attacks.
Because Australia has no diplomatic mission in Syria, its citizens were advised to turn to the Canadian Embassy for assistance if need be.