In Rare Public Speech, Assad Says Syria Has To Defend Itself | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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In Rare Public Speech, Assad Says Syria Has To Defend Itself

Syrian President Bashar Assad is addressing his country for the first time in months, maintaining his prior assertions that the violence is the work of terrorists.

Though he did propose an outline for some changes, including a new charter, Assad said his initiative would only happen after "Western countries" stop funding the opposition, The Associated Press reports.

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Syrian state media say President Bashar Assad will outline a peace plan Sunday, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports. Sunday morning, activists reported "heavy clashes between rebels and government forces around the country," according to The Associated Press.

Kenyon says there's no suggestion Assad's resignation will be part of his announcement.

He tells our Newscast Desk that, according to state media's official sources, the plan includes: a ceasefire overseen by international observers, changes to the constitution, a national unity government and free elections.

As the BBC reports, diplomatic efforts have so far failed to end the violence:

"UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been pushing a plan approved at an international conference in June that would create a transitional government.

"But the plan leaves President Assad's role unclear. The Syrian opposition has insisted that Mr. Assad must step down for the conflict to end."

More than 60,000 people have been killed since March 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Office estimates, a number it called "truly shocking."

NPR's Deborah Amos shared her experiences reporting in and around the country on Friday. She told NPR's Steve Inskeep:

"One teacher told me that the kids only paint in red. And it's almost impossible for them to draw human beings without blood coming out of them."

Update at 6 a.m. ET. The Proposal:

Assad proposed a reconciliation conference and a new national charter, which he said would have to be approved by popular referendum. The AP reports:

"Assad, however, says the initiative can only take roots after regional and Western countries stop funding what he called militant extremists fighting to overthrow him."

He emphasized the importance of a Syria-generated solution, saying, "Syria accepts advice but not dictation," Al Jazeera translated.

Update at 5:30 a.m. ET. Assad Is Speaking:

Assad said the conflict is not a "revolution" and reiterated his previous assertions that the violence is the work of terrorists. He called them "a bunch of criminals," according to an Al Jazeera television translation. "We have to defend our country," he said.

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