| 0.9°C Dublin

Assad vows to 'use iron hand' in crackdown on protests


Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in Damascus

Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in Damascus

Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in Damascus

Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, launched another tirade against pro-democracy protests yesterday, vowing that he would use an "iron hand" to crush the uprising against his rule.

Speaking publicly for the first time since Arab League peace monitors entered Syria to look for evidence of rights abuses -- the UN says the violence has already claimed more than 5,000 lives -- Mr Assad claimed that he would step down if that was "based upon the people's wishes".

As he spoke, at least 11 observers were injured after being attacked by demonstrators in the port city of Latakia.

Mr Assad (46) offered a referendum on a new constitution in March before a multi-party parliamentary election, which has been much postponed.

Under the present constitution, Mr Assad's Baath party is designated as "the leader of the state and society".

But the Syrian leader gave no sign that he was willing to relinquish the power he inherited on his father's death in 2000.

"I am not someone who abandons responsibility," he declared.

In the latest bloodshed, Syrian forces shot dead 10 people, most of them anti-Assad protesters, in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Gunfire from a checkpoint also killed a man in Homs, it added.

Authorities have barred most independent media from Syria, making it hard to verify accounts by activists or officials.

Mr Assad made scathing remarks about the Arab League, which has sent monitors to check Syria's compliance with an Arab peace plan after suspending it from the 22-member body in November.

"The Arab League has failed for six decades to take a position in the Arab interest," Mr Assad said.

Meanwhile, the Arab League condemned the attack in which 11 of its monitors were hurt, saying Syria had breached its obligation to protect them.

The League said in a statement that the mission was attacked by pro-Assad demonstrators in Latakia and Deir el-Zor cities and by opposition protesters in other areas.

Mr Assad complained that Syria was the target of a relentless foreign media campaign.

Blaming unrest on "outside planning", Mr Assad said: "The outside now, regrettably, includes Arabs."

Russia and China have opposed any UN Security Council move on Syria, while Western powers have not advocated military action.

Analyst Jeremy Binnie questioned whether the outcome in Libya could be replicated in Syria.

"The Syrian regime would be a significantly harder to topple and the fallout potentially far more serious, especially given the country's arsenal of chemical weapons," he said.

"Libya's air defences were a pushover by comparison. Syria would be a challenge of biblical proportions compared with Libya."

Irish Independent