Rallies held across the country as activists and world leaders say reforms pledged by president are not enough.
|Supporters of Assad rallied outside Damascus University after his speech [AFP/SANA]|
Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, has addressed the nation for the third time since uprising against his regime began in March.
While pledging political reform, he also repeated claims that “armed criminals” and religious extremists were stirring unrest in the country.
The speech was met with mixed reactions in Syria.
|Kholoud, 21, student at Damascus University, originally from the Alawite coastal heartland|
“I watched the speech with my colleagues at the university’s coffee shop. All of them were happy because he seemed a strong leader. We should stand with him to fight the radical Salafists and armed gangs who are agents for Turkey and Lebanon’s March 14 group.
“After the speech I and all my colleagues demonstrated to support the president in the face of the conspiracy. We will stand with Assad until the end because it is a matter of life or death. Whatever the president says, the protesters will not like it.”
Hadi, 45, Baath Party member and employee in a state-run company, from Damascus
“President Assad has a deep vision on the situation in Syria and the world. Syria has a historical stance supporting the Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese resistance movements. So everyone who likes Israel will stand against Assad and his regime.
“We who love Syria’s stability and security will gather tomorrow in the country’s squares to show our big support and love for President Bashar.”
Karam, 30, opposition activist from Homs
“The president gave a long analysis with no meaning. As president he should not deny everything. He should recognise the killing of 1,500 martyrs. I think Assad is now unable to come up with a political solution.
“The best thing he can do is to leave the power. He talks about dialogue just for the international community, not for a real dialogue. He wanted to market himself as a political leader who comes up with a solution. But he came up with nothing.”
Abu Jwan, 50, Kurdish opposition activist from Qamishli in Syria’s northwest
“The president’s speech led Syria into a new era of bloodshed. From his words I understood that the coming days will be bloodier with even more security and military crackdown. I was gambling on a very small window of hope but now I can say there is no hope from the regime and no hope for Assad to make real reforms.
“The Syrian protesters will make history, not Assad who is finished. His speech was the mortal shot for the Assad family regime. For the last five decades we’ve heard the same language of ‘we will do this’, ‘we will do that.'”
Khalil, 35, businessman from a wealthy Damascene family, formerly pro-Assad but recently supportive of the opposition
“Today President Assad gave his ‘farewell speech’. It is his third speech [since the crisis began] and he came up with nothing so he will follow his Tunisian and Egyptian counterparts. I liked the speech so much actually because it came with up with no solutions. That means we will be on the same track which will surely lead to democratic change.
“President Assad couldn’t convince the protesters. Indeed he got new protesters against him and his regime. He shouldn’t have made this speech because after each speech the number of protesters is increasing. So from now until Friday the number of protesters will be big, very big.”