Syria's Assad to take on critics in rare TV interview

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The Independent Online

President Bashar al-Assad was due to address the country on television last night for the first time since Western leaders called on the embattled Syrian dictator to stand down.

State televison said it would broadcast an interview with Mr Assad addressing the "reform process" and the "implications of US and Western pressures on Syria".

The planned television appearance came a day after a United Nations humanitarian team was granted access to Syria. The UN has been trying to enter the country since May.

Mr Assad has told the UN that nationwide military operations, which intensified at the beginning of August, had now ceased. But activists claim that dozens of civilians are still being gunned down by Syrian security forces. On Friday, 34 people were killed in the cities of Homs and Deraa, according to human rights groups.

"Most of the people in Syria don't want to hear the TV speech," said a Damascus-based activist who asked not to be named. "They just think it's going to be babble about international terrorists.

"But I wouldn't be happy about him stepping down. I don't believe anything this regime does. If he was to say he was standing down it would be part of a plot to allow the regime to continue."

Ausama Monajed, a London-based political activist, said Mr Assad's TV interview would be "irrelevant" and that "he lives in his ivory tower and doesn't have a clue what's happening".

Mr Assad's last public address, in June, was received with derision by some Syrians, who scorned his attempt to blame "saboteurs" for the violence which has swept across the country since March.