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Syria: Army Will Not Go Back to Barracks - Assad

LIMASSOL - The Syrian army will not go back to its barracks while unrest caused by 'plotters' and 'outside forces' continues, said President Bashar Assad in his third speech since widespread uprisings against the autocratic rule of the Ba'ath party started on March 16th.

His speech from Damascus was broadcast live on France24 television and put an end to hopes that martial law - imposed in 1963 - would be eased. It offered precious little in the way of concrete reform plans, although Assad did say that citizenship had been granted to 36,000 Syrians living abroad. Assad spent much of the time blaming outside forces and 'a small army' of criminals and malcontents for the unrest, calling them 'microbes on the body politic.'

Assad asked the thousands of refugees who have fled to Turkey to come back to Syria, but it's unlikely that they would have been reassured by his statement that the army would not be leaving the streets of Syria anytime soon. Contradicting news reports about protestors being killed by security forces, the Syrian president said the army had only attacked organised looters who had managed to get hold of military vehicles. His hour-long speech rambled at some points when he seemed genuinely out of his depth, accusing the opposition of using 'sophisticated' technology like smartphones to spread rumours, lies and speculation.

More promises

He promised a national dialogue and eventual decentralisation of power, new media laws, even the opening of the government to other political parties - but not convincingly according to blogger Amira Al Husseini, who said the speech had made her feel sick, and that four Syrian cities had already started protests against it.

Over 1,400 Syrians have been killed in anti-government protests since March, according to human rights activists. Meanwhile, World Refugee Day today comes amid raised alertness in neighboring countries like Cyprus and Greece which fear a potential flood of refugees trying to get to the EU from Turkey. There are more than 10,000 displaced Syrians sheltering in tent cities in the southern province of Hatay, Turkey.

Brief background on Syrian modern history

The Syrian Arab Republic was established under a French mandate and gained independence in April 1946 as a parliamentary republic.

The post-independence period was tumultuous, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949-1970, according to Wikipedia. Syria has been under Emergency Law since 1962, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for most citizens.

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