Syrian president set to address nation

Bashar al-Assad expected to unveil reforms in first public speech since security forces curbed anti-government protests.

Syria unrest

Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president is expected to address the nation on Wednesday in his first speech in two weeks of unprecedented dissent.

Syrian news agency SANA said Assad would deliver an important speech addressed to the Syrian people in which he will tackle the internal affairs and the latest events in Syria”.

Assad is expected to elaborate on a string of reforms announced last week, amid a wave of dissent and protests demanding more freedoms which led to the resignation of the country’s government on Tuesday.

“Bashar al-Assad is the spine of Syria. Without him, our country will be pushed into chaos”

Abu Khodr,
pro-government supporter

Naji al-Otari, the resigning premier, has been chosen by Assad as caretaker prime minister. Otari has been prime minister since 2003.

The government has little power in Syria, where power is concentrated in the hand of Assad, his family and the security apparatus.

Syria has been ruled by the Baath Party since 1963 and Assad succeeded his father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.

The 32-member cabinet will continue running the country’s affairs until the formation of a new government.

A new cabinet is to be formed in 24 hours, sources have told Al Jazeera.

More than 60 people have died since March 18 as security forces cracked down on protesters, Human Rights Watch has said.

‘Pushed into chaos’

Tuesday’s announcement came as thousands of supporters of Assad poured into central Damascus in a show of support for their leader.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin says Assad is expected to name a new government in the coming days

On Tuesday, all roads leading to Sabeh Bahrat (“Seven Seas”) square in the capital were cut off by police armed with batons, as the crowd raised Syrian flags and pictures of Assad.

“The people want Bashar al-Assad,” they chanted in unison.

“Bashar al-Assad is the spine of Syria. Without him, our country will be pushed into chaos,” said a man who identified himself as Abu Khodr.

Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin said pro-government demonstrations were also taking place in other cities.

“There are [pro-government] protesters coming from across the country. And there are protests not only here in Damascus but across the country.”

Expected reforms

Last week, Bouthaina Shaaban, the senior adviser to the president, announced a number of reforms that would take place shortly.

“One of the key things she said was there are no red lines. Everything is up for negotiations to the president of Syria,” our correspondent said.

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“The parliament has been in meetings ever since [the announcement] dealing with some of those reforms, at times asking the president’s office to clarify exactly what these reforms will be.

Our correspondent emphasised: “the people are asking for reforms, not necessarily for the president to step down”.

Syrian authorities have also pledged to lift the state of emergency in force for almost 50 years since the Baath Party took power.

“We know the emergency law will be lifted, that is confirmed … the question is when will that happen,” our correspondent said.

Lawyers say the emergency law has been used by authorities to ban protests, justify arbitrary arrests and closed courts and give free rein to the secret police.

Last week, the state also announced other reforms, including the release of detainees and plans to form new laws on the media and licensing political parties.

Protest violence

Protests have grown increasingly violent across the country, with scores being killed in the recent unrest.

On Monday, security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air to disperse hundreds of protesters in Daraa, who were demanding an end to the emergency laws.

Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry reports on the deadly anti-government protests in southern Daraa

They also called for the release of thousands of political prisoners and for Assad to allow freedom of speech and assembly and curb the free reign the security apparatus enjoys in the country of 22 million.

At least 61 people have been killed in 10 days of anti-government protests in southern Daraa.

On Sunday, security forces were deployed to the northern city of Latakia after violent protests left at least 12 people dead.

And in Sanamin on Friday, at least 10 people were killed at a protest.

Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in Syria, but it now faces the wave of Arab revolutionary sentiment which has toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Assad has been criticised by the West and neighbouring Turkey for using violence against peaceful protesters.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies