Assad offers reforms - opposition unimpressed

Syrian President Bashar Assad appeared on TV yesterday and pledged political reforms, but refused to be specific.

As the loyalty of the army is now being questioned, Assad has little choice but to try and stop the protests that have rocked his regime, or end up like other dictators who hang on too long.

Los Angeles Times:

Syrian President Bashar Assad, facing international and domestic pressure for rapid change, promised to open the country's political system and allow for a change of the constitution but unveiled no concrete new reforms and continued to blame unspecified foreign conspiracies for the violence perpetrated by his security forces in his first public address in over two months.

But the speech fell far short of Syrian and international demands for a dramatic opening up of one of the world's most tightly controlled police states. They said the vision he outlined ultimately failed to include concrete steps toward the democracy the protesters demand.

Though Assad insisted that "conspiracy is blooming in Syria," describing "germs" that had infected the country, activists acknowledged that the tone of the speech was less arrogant than his previous addresses and he attempted to acknowledge the country's dire situation.

"We meet today in a defining moment in the history of our country, a moment we wish to be a turning point from a yesterday when innocent blood was shed to a tomorrow when we restore the picture of serenity, freedom, integrity and solidarity," he said to a crowd of lawmakers who punctuated his occasionally rambling 70-minute speech with applause. "We have seen many grave hours; we have paid a grave price."

Assad, battling for his autocratic regime's survival in the face of a nationwide pro-democracy uprising, softened his tone from his previous two speeches -- especially a disastrous March 30 address that enraged protesters -- acknowledging martyrs "on both sides" and that "innocent blood was shed." He urged thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey to return to their homes.

As the brutal crack down continues, more and more of the Syrian army is running away or defecting. It would be a good idea for the west to up the pressure on Assad but no major leader has called for him to step down. Until there is a general call for his ouster, Assad will continue to drag his heels on reform, hoping things die down and the west forgets about his massacres.