Assad sees Syria plot, unyielding on emergency law

DAMASCUS, (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad  defied calls today to lift a decades-old emergency law  and said Syria was the target of a foreign conspiracy to stir up  protests in which more than 60 people have been killed.
Angry that their demands were not met, hundreds of  protesters chanting “Freedom” marched in the port city of  Latakia, where residents said security forces had fired in the  air.
Speaking in public for the first time since the start of the  unprecedented demonstrations, inspired by uprisings across the  Arab world, Assad said he supported reform but offered no new  commitment to change Syria’s rigid, one-party political system.
“Implementing reforms is not a fad. When it is just a  reflection of a wave that the region is living, it is  destructive,” said Assad, making clear he would not concede to  pressure from mass protests which toppled other Arab leaders.
“Syria today is being subjected to a big conspiracy, whose  threads extend from countries near and far,” Assad said, smiling  and looking assured, without naming any countries.
Ending emergency law, the main tool for suppressing dissent  since it was imposed after the 1963 coup that elevated Assad’s  Baath Party to power, has been a central demand of protesters.
They also want political prisoners freed, and to know the  fate of tens of thousands who disappeared in the 1980s.
The protests have presented the gravest challenge to Assad’s  11-year rule in Syria, which has an anti-Israel alliance with  Shi’ite Iran and supports militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
He also accused foreign media, who operate under restriction  in Syria, of misrepresenting the protests.
The government has expelled three Reuters journalists in  recent days — its senior foreign correspondent in Damascus and  a two-man television crew who were detained for two days before  being deported to their home base in neighbouring Lebanon.

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