03/30/2011, 00.00
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Only promises and tanks from Assad

Despite earlier announcements, the Syrian president only promises reforms but says nothing about expected steps to end 48 years of emergency rule and the one-party state. Deraa is surrounded by the army. According to some sources, a huge crowd has gathered for the funerals of demonstrators killed during clashes.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – President Bashar al-Assad has promised reforms but sent in the tanks. It appears that the Syrian leader is convinced that he can contain calls for reform and democracy, which have driven thousands of people into the streets and caused dozens of dead from clashes with security forces.

Today was the much-awaited day in which the president would address the Syrian parliament. Announced several times, it had been postponed, according to Assad, by the need to see the situation more clearly.

Demonstrators and observers were expecting an end to the country’s 48-year-old emergency rule. Under its terms, police have the power to arrest anyone without charges and hold them for an undetermined length of time. People also anticipated an end to media censorship, which prevents an independent press, as well as the one-party rule by the Ba’ath party. They also looked forward to plans to tackle corruption.

Many were certain that such changes would be announced. Presidential spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban had almost said as much on Sunday. The resignation en masse of the cabinet, which the president accepted, was seen as a sign of changes to come.

However, in a speech interrupted by roaring applause, Assad simply said, “We tell those asking for reform that we were late in implementing reform but we will start now.  [. . .] We are studying decisions to combat corruption and increase job opportunities.”

As he expressed regrets for the victims of clashes, the president also noted, “Our enemies are working to continuously hit Syria’s stability,” targeted by “a big plot from the outside”.

Similarly, he said that Syrians were “duped" into going into the streets by “satellite TV stations”, adding that the people in Deraa “must contain the minorities that sought to create chaos”. In his view, the latter are to blame for the deaths.

As for the rest, after yesterday’s pro-regime rally organised to boost support for the president, the usual themes dear to the regime’s propaganda were reiterated. The president in fact insisted that the ties that bind state and people are not based on pressure but on the rights and needs of citizens. He also claimed that Syria was the victim of a plot designed to end its leadership role in the resistance against Israel. Equally, he explained that the latest developments should be used to help the Palestinian cause and that Syria’s foreign policy is based on a decision to uphold the rights of Arab resistance and that Syria was not isolated in the Arab world.

Meanwhile, Deraa, the city that has come to symbolise the uprising, continues to be surrounded by tanks. Checkpoints have been set up at all points that permit access to and from the city. At the same time, opposition sources say that thousands of people are gathering in front of the al-Omari Mosque for the funerals of the latest five victims. (PD)

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Protests continue in Deraa as the number of dead and wounded mounts
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