01/07/2013, 00.00
SYRIA - UN - VATICAN
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Assad's TV speech meets international disapproval, as pope calls for a stop to the violence

After months of silence, the dictator speaks to the nation, saying that he refuses to sell out the country to "puppets". International community dismisses his call, "detached from reality". For Benedict XVI, the conflict "will know no victors but only vanquished if it continues".

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) - After months of absence, Syrian President Bashar al Assad went on national TV to attack the opposition, which he calls "puppets" of foreign powers. His speech however generated strong negative reactions in the international community. Meanwhile, the pope renewed his call for a ceasefire and dialogue, then only path for peace in Syria.

In his speech yesterday, Assad closed the door to a negotiated solution with people who use violence and those behind the "puppets", saying that the government would continue to use force against those trying to overthrow it. Instead, there would be national mobilisation in a "war to defend the nation".

The Syrian president added that a national conference would draft a new constitution to be voted on in a referendum, followed by elections.

Assad said that he is willing to talk with other parties and leaders but only if they do not sell out their country.

At the end of his speech, he was cheered by supporters. The international community did not.

The EU's foreign policy chief called on President Assad to leave office. "We maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition," Baroness Catherine Ashton's office said in a statement.

"Deaths, violence and oppression engulfing Syria are his own making, empty promises of reform fool no one," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a Twitter message.

Assad's speech is "detached from reality", just "another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people's goal of a political transition," the US State Department said on Sunday.

In receiving the diplomatic corps, Benedict XVI offered an outline for a solution. "I think first and foremost of Syria, torn apart by endless slaughter and the scene of dreadful suffering among its civilian population. I renew my appeal for a ceasefire and the inauguration as quickly as possible of a constructive dialogue aimed at putting an end to a conflict which will know no victors but only vanquished if it continues, leaving behind it nothing but a field of ruins."

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