Syria's Assad offers dialogue, refuses 'chaos'

Syria's Assad offers dialogue, refuses 'chaos'

After widespread condemnation of a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests, the country was at a "turning point," he said in a televised speech at Damascus University, vowing Syria would emerge stronger from the "plotting" against it.

He said dialogue was underway that could lead to a new constitution and raised the possibility of elections and an end to the ruling Baath party's dominance, a key opposition demand, while warning the economy was on the verge of collapse.

"We can say that national dialogue is the slogan of the next stage," Assad said. "The national dialogue could lead to amendments of the constitution or to a new constitution."
He insisted that a reform process in Syria was "a total commitment in the interest of the nation."

Offering his condolences to the families of "martyrs" from the unrest rocking the country since mid-March, Assad said there could be "no development without stability, no reform in the face of sabotage and chaos."

"We make a distinction between those (with legitimate grievances) and the saboteurs who represent a small group which has tried to exploit the goodwill of the Syrian people for its own ends," said Assad.

The Syrian leader's third speech to the nation since the protests broke out, punctuated by applause from the invited audience, was buoyed by a Russian pledge to block Western moves against him at the United Nations.

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