Syria’s security forces have fired shots to disperse demonstrators who took to the streets, Wednesday, following a speech by President Bashar al-Assad.
Witnesses in the coastal city of Latakia say security officers fired the shots after several hundred protesters tried to rally. It is unclear if the officers fired warning shots or shot directly at demonstrators.
Some protesters chanted “freedom” as they gathered in the town, which was the site of deadly anti-government unrest on Saturday. Western news reports say protesters rallied in several other cities on Wednesday.
In his first national speech addressing opposition protests, President Assad said on Wednesday that foreigners and the social media had created a “conspiracy” to bring down his regime.
He stopped short of lifting the country’s 50-year-old emergency law, a move that protesters have demanded. Mr. Assad only briefly mentioned the law in his speech and gave no indication of a change.
The president said his government has enacted some reforms to meet protesters’ demands, including raising salaries and changing his Cabinet. He accepted his ministers’ resignations on Tuesday. Prime Minister Mohammed Naji al-Otari will stay on as caretaker government chief, until a new Cabinet is announced.
The U.S. says Mr. Assad’s speech fell short of the kinds of reforms that the Syrian people have been demanding. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the speech “lacked substance.”
The opposition protests represent the most serious threat to Mr. Assad’s 11-year rule and the long-standing authority of his family. In referring to anti-government unrest, the president said there is “chaos” in the country under the pretext of reform.
The southern city of Daraa has been the focal point of the anti-government demonstrations. Mr. Assad said the people of Daraa were not responsible for causing the unrest but did have a responsibility to end the divisions that have taken place.
Parliament chambers were filled during Mr. Assad’s speech. Some in the audience interrupted the speech to praise Mr. Assad. Syrian state television showed hundreds of people in a square cheering Mr. Assad during the speech.
Syrian security officials have cracked down on recent anti-government demonstrations, firing tear gas and live ammunition to disperse protesters. The group Human Rights Watch says at least 61 people have been killed since the unrest began.
Mr. Assad said security forces were instructed not to harm demonstrators during recent protests.
But on Saturday, at least two people were killed in Latakia as anti-government activists attacked the local office of the ruling Baath party.