Syria's Assad to speak buoyed by Russia veto vow
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to address the nation Monday in his third major speech since protests against his rule erupted in March, buoyed by a Russian pledge to block Western moves against him at the United Nations.
European foreign ministers, frustrated by Russia's threat to use its veto in the UN Security Council, gathered in Luxembourg to discuss tougher sanctions of their own against Assad's government as its deadly crackdown intensifies.
Britain's William Hague said he hoped the Syrian leader would use his speech to "respond to legitimate grievances" of his people, insisting "Assad should reform or step aside."
Assad was to deliver a speech at noon (0900 GMT) "concerning developments in Syria," the official Syrian Arab News Agency said on Sunday in a terse dispatch which gave no further details.
The Syrian has made two previous interventions during the unrest.
On March 30 -- two weeks after the protests against his 11-year reign started -- he addressed parliament and called the demonstrations a "conspiracy" fomented by Syria's enemies.
On April 16, he announced in a televised address that the emergency law in force for nearly 50 years would be abolished, expressed his sadness at the deaths of protesters and called for a national dialogue.
The opposition dismissed that offer as too little too late.
To step up the pressure on Assad to deliver real change, Western governments have been circulating a draft resolution at the Security Council that would condemn his crackdown on dissent.
But President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Russia was ready to use its veto to block any such move.
Speaking in an interview with the Financial Times, Medvedev said he feared the text would be used as cover for Libya-style military action.
"What I am not ready to support is a resolution (similar to the one) on Libya because it is my deep conviction that a good resolution has been turned into a piece of paper that is being used to provide cover for a meaningless military operation," he said.
"There will not be such a resolution. Russia will use its Security Council permanent member rights," he said, referring to Moscow's right of veto.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had said that if any Security Council permanent member threatened to veto the Western draft then "that should be on their conscience."
But Medvedev insisted he did not want to have on his conscience that he had failed to halt a potential drift to military intervention.
"The resolution may say: 'We condemn the use of force in Syria' and after that planes will take off into the air," he said.
"We will be told: 'Well, it says there that we condemn so we condemned, (and) dispatched a certain amount of bombers there.' I don't want it. In any case, I don't want to have it on my conscience."
In Luxembourg, Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, said the European Union was eagerly awaiting Assad's speech.
"There are crucial developments in Syria," he said.
"The United Kingdom looks to him to respond to legitimate grievances, to release prisoners of conscience, to open up access to Internet and freedom of the media," he added.
Hague said he hoped that Turkey, which announced on Sunday it was delivering aid to refugees from the crackdown on the Syrian side of their common border, would use the close ties it has developed with Assad's government over the past decade to advance the cause of reform.
He called for Ankara to be "very clear and very bold about that."
Syrian opposition activists, who announced the creation of a "National Council" on Sunday to spearhead their battle to oust Assad's regime, expressed frustration at the failure of the international community to act more vigorously.
"In Libya, after the death of two hundred people, Kadhafi no longer had legitimacy," their spokesman Jamil Saib said.
"Here in Syria, while all human rights groups say that there are 1,500 killed and thousands of injured or people arrested, the international community and the Arab world are silent."
According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the violence has so far claimed the lives of 1,310 civilians and 341 security force members.
© 2011 AFP