Atyrau, November 29 14:33
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Assad gives defiant speech as Syrian rebels edge closer to Damascus

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday outlined what was billed as a new peace initiative that included a national reconciliation conference and a new constitution in a rare speech about the uprising against his rule, which has killed an estimated 60,000 people and brought civil war to the edge of his capital.

His foes reacted to the speech with scorn.

George Sabra, vice president of the opposition National Coalition, told Reuters the peace plan Assad put at the heart of his speech did "not even deserve to be called an initiative."

"We should see it rather as a declaration that he will continue his war against the Syrian people," he said.

Speaking before an overwhelmingly supportive crowd that interrupted his speech with chants and rapturous applause several times, Assad offered no concessions and even appeared to harden many of his positions. He rallied Syrians for "a war to defend the nation" and disparaged the prospect of negotiations. There was little to no acknowledgement that there are Syrians themselves who have taken up the fight.

"We do not reject political dialogue ... but with whom should we hold a dialogue? With extremists who don't believe in any language but killing and terrorism?" Assad asked.

"Should we speak to gangs recruited abroad that follow the orders of foreigners? Should we have official dialogue with a puppet made by the West, which has scripted its lines?"

Assad said his initiative would not move forward until foreign funding for the rebels stops.

January 8 2013, 14:34

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