Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has halted a speech in parliament, telling legislators he needed to “sit down for a minute” after suffering a drop in blood pressure.
The 54-year-old was half an hour through his speech on Wednesday when he began appearing tired, interrupting it twice to take a sip of water from a glass in front of him.
He was speaking about US sanctions on Syria and the war-torn country’s economic crisis when he told the room: “My blood pressure has dropped and I need to drink water.”
Shortly afterwards, he said: “I need to sit for a minute if you don’t mind,” before exiting the huge hall.
It was not clear how long he was absent but when he returned, al-Assad, a trained eye doctor who is not known to have any specific health condition, joked that “doctors are the worst patients”.
“I haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon. I have no sugar or salt and this happens,” he added.
The presidency’s Facebook page said in a post that the speech would be aired later on Wednesday. It did not provide further details.
Al-Assad spoke from a podium to the mask-wearing members of parliament.
Syria has seen a rising number of coronavirus infections recently, although the overall reported numbers remain low with 1,327 confirmed cases and 53 deaths. Limited testing facilities and Syrian government control over pandemic statistics have led to concerns that the real number of cases is much higher than that reported.
Al-Assad gave the speech on the occasion of the first parliament session after elections were held last month. The vote was the third to take place in Syria since the country’s devastating war began in 2011.
The conflict started as a mass uprising against al-Assad’s rule but quickly morphed into a full-fledged civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The election also coincided with Syria’s worst economic crisis and a currency crash, which has dragged more of the country’s population into poverty.
Al-Assad said sweeping new US sanctions amounted to a new stage of economic warfare against his government and were part of Washington’s long-standing efforts to “choke” Syrians’ living standards.
He also blamed the sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, for a fall in the local currency to new record lows, with panic buying of dollars by Syrians worried about their economic situation.