Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses nation

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addressed Monday his nation for the third time since the eruption of the unrest that swept the country in mid March, Syria's state TV reported.

In a televised speech, Assad said that Syria has always been a subject of various plots before and after its independence, adding that its only choice is to "control the events and lead them instead of letting them lead us."

He described his people's demands as "righteous," however, stressing that the "pressing needs of some people do not justify attempts to spread anarchy and breach the law."

The speech is the third since the eruption of the protests in Syria in mid March and the first in more than two months.

In his speech made by the end of March, Assad blamed " conspirators" for being behind the unrest in his country, adding that the conspiracy aims to weaken his country of 23 million people.

In Monday's speech, Assad said the recent amnesty was the "most comprehensive one" since 1988, adding that the government would study ways to include further prisoners in coming pardons.

In an apparent indication to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Assad warned that the most dangerous thing is what is represented by the advocates of the "extremist" opinion, noting that those extremists have even called for foreign interventions and tried to weaken the national political stance.

He said some peaceful demonstrations were used as a cover by some "extremists" to carry out attacks against civilians, policemen and military men.

"What is happening nowadays has nothing to do with development and reform ... What is carrying on is sabotage," he added.

Assad said the basic demand of the Syrian people, who he met, is to combat spreading corruption, vowing that there would be no " tolerance" of anyone who couldn't shoulder responsibilities.

"National dialogue has become the title of the current phase," Assad stressed.

"Implementing the pressing needs of the people has already started even before the start of dialogue," he added.

President Assad said the government has recently issued many decisions aiming at improving living conditions, pledging that other measures are coming to "alleviate burdens" on citizens.

He also pledged to track down all those who spilled blood or sought to spill blood in the country, while adding that "The solution to the problem is political, but there is no political solution for anyone carrying weapons."

Referring to Syrian families which fled the violence in the north and streamed into Turkey, Assad urged all those families to return as soon as possible, vowing that there would be no retaliation against them.

"Some people try to allude that the government would avenge them and this is untrue ... The army is there to serve them," Assad said.

The Syrian leadership has recently unleashed a full-scale army operation in the northern edge of Syria along the borders with Turkey following the alleged killing of 120 security agents and the discovery of two mass graves combining some mutilated bodies of army officers.

Army reinforcements were sent to the violence-hit area in the wake of the appeals made by residents urging the army to interfere to put an end to the armed gangs that, according to Syria's official news agency, have pushed the residents to flee to Turkey.

Turkish authorities said the number of Syrians fleeing violence at home and streaming into Turkey has reached nearly 10,000. Another 5,000 residents in the western area of Tal Kalakh crossed the border to Lebanon earlier this month.

The crisis in Syria has severely damaged the country's economy, said Assad, who made it clear that the country's economy will deteriorate unless the crisis ends.

"The most dangerous thing we face in the coming period is the weakness or the collapse of the economy," Assad said.

Assad ends his speech delivered at the Damascus University by saying, "Syria is fine."

When Assad, 45, first came to power, he promised reforms, initially allowing political discussion groups to hold small gatherings indoors in a period that came to be known as the Damascus Spring.

But in 2001, he began to clamp down on pro-democracy activists, showing there is limit to dissent.

Syria has been wracked by more than three months of anti- government protests calling for freedom and reform, however, the protestors' demands have snowballed from modest reforms to the downfall of the regime.

Syria pins the blame on "armed extremists groups" that aim at toppling al-Assad's regime and establishing an Islamic emirate instead.

The Syrian government said 500 members of security forces have died since the eruption of protests in mid March, including 120 last week in north Syria, meanwhile, according to activists, more than 1,400 civilians have died and some 10,000 have been detained during the government's crackdown on protests.

The recent turbulence in Syria has drawn international condemnation. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last week France and Germany have agreed to push for tougher sanctions against Syria for the alleged ongoing crackdown on protests.

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal are pushing for a draft UN resolution to condemn Syria.

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