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Defiant Assad Vows To 'Restore Order' In Syria


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gives a speech in Damascus on January 10.
President Bashar al-Assad has accused "a foreign conspiracy" of trying to destabilize Syria and vowed to restore order by "hitting terrorists with an iron fist."

Assad told an audience at Damascus University that "there is no tolerance with terrorism or with those who use weapons to kill." However, he denied again that he had ordered security forces to shoot protesters.

"There is no order at any level in our country to shoot at any civilian," he said.

Assad pledged that a referendum will be held in March on a new constitution to replace the current one, which enshrines the Baath Party's leading position.

The Syrian leader said the referendum would be followed by a general election, but vowed he would not step down, insisting he still has popular support.

In his speech, the first since agreeing last month to an Arab League plan to halt the government's crackdown on a 10-month-old protest movement, he accused the league of "failing in its attempt at mediation" and said he was "surprised Arabs did not stand with Syria."

Assad's attack on the Arab League comes after Syria's opposition blamed the monitors for showing too much lenience toward the regime.

Opposition figures say the mission has only given Assad's government more time to use violence against protesters.

The United Nations estimated several weeks ago that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since March.

Since that report, opposition activists say hundreds more have died.

Meanwhile, the Arab League says 11 of its monitors were "lightly" injured when their vehicles were attacked this week by protesters in the Syrian city of Latakia.

Reuters quoted the head of the Arab League operations room in Cairo, Adnan al-Khodheir, as saying the attack happened on January 9, and that none of the injured needed to be admitted to hospital.

He added that the incident didn’t affect the work of the monitors.

The Arab League issued a statement on January 10 condemning the attack, saying the Syrian government had failed in its commitment to provide protection.

compiled from agency reports