In a long-awaited public address, President Bashar Assad blamed foreign conspiracies for Syria’s unrest March 30. “Syria is a target of a big plot from the outside,” Assad said as Syrians gathered around television sets at homes and in town squares. He said protesters have been “duped” into taking to the streets. Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri on March 29 tendered his government’s resignation to Assad, who promptly re-appointed him caretaker premier. The next government, expected to be formed in the coming days, will be charged with implementing reforms promised after protests erupted in mid-March. The reforms are expected to include the end of emergency rule, in place since the Baath party came to power in 1963, and the liberalization of laws on media and political parties.
In Damascus, hundreds of thousands of Assad supporters turned out for a rally at the Sabeh Bahrat (“Seven Fountains”) square March 29. “The people want Bashar al-Assad,” they chanted in unison at the rally below a massive picture of the president that had been hoisted on Syria’s central bank. State-run Syria Television also showed footage of massive crowds gathered in other governorates, including Aleppo and Homs, under the headlines: “Syrians confirm their adherence to national cohesion and stability” and “Popular rallies affirm support for President Bashar al-Assad’s leadership”. (LAT, March 31; Middle East Online, March 30)