Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is addressing the nation in his first speech since anti-government demonstrations erupted two weeks ago.
He denounced what he called a “conspiracy” in his country after recent political unrest in which more than 60 people have been killed. Protests of the scale seen over the last two weeks are unprecedented in Syria.
Emboldened by emergency laws, the police state has previously crushed dissent. Initially, demonstrators limited their demands to more freedoms. But, increasingly incensed by a security crackdown, especially in the southern city of Deraa where protests first erupted, they later called for the “downfall of the regime”.
Assad told a cheering parliament that clear instructions had been given not to harm any Syrian citizens during the protests.
Despite him making it known that he was considering scrapping the emergency laws, arbitrary arrests in large numbers have continued across the country.
Assad still has strong support, however, as Tuesday’s massive demonstration in the capital showed. The government-organised rally suggested Assad was seeking to address his people from a position of strength, adopting a strategy to counter unrest that was once unthinkable in the tightly- controlled Arab state.