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Syria's Assad says victory is close

  |   Jan. 10, 2012 at 7:11 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Victory is near and Syria will emerge triumphant "when we defeat the arm of terrorism," Syrian President Bashar Assad said Tuesday.

In a nearly 100-minute speech in Cairo, the Syrian leader blasted the Arab League and said it was clear that foreign terrorists were fomenting the months-long protests against his regime, Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported.

While it would be difficult to know when the "conspiracy" against Syria would end, Assad said, "It will come to an end when the smuggling of weapons comes to an end. We will triumph over it when we defeat the arm of terrorism."

"We cannot relent in the battle against terrorism," Assad said. "We strike with an iron fist against terrorists who have been brain washed."

He closed by saying, "We are going to be victorious, God willing."

Al-Jazeera showed a split screen of Assad delivering his speech and protesters in the streets. The United Nations has estimated at least 5,000 people had been killed since the uprising began against Assad's government, which has maintained it was cracking down on armed terrorists.

Assad blamed the opposition for delays in talks with the government, one of the conditions of the Arab League's proposal his regime signed. He said a referendum will be held on a new constitution in March.

"We have differences but we have no divisions that would justify a national unity government," Assad said.

Assad said the West wasn't interested in reforms and that reforms would not stop "terrorism" in Syria.

"If we base reforms on the crisis they will be lame and short term," he said. "Reform cannot be based on the crisis, otherwise we will legitimate foreign interference."

He was critical of the Arab League, which suspended Syria's membership and has sent monitors to Syria to observe whether Assad's government is committed to ending its violent crackdown against protesters that was part of the agreement.

"The Arab League is no longer Arab, we should call it a 'Foreign League'," Assad said, adding that by suspending Syria's membership, the league suspended its Arab identity.

In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Syria is headed toward civil war.

"The structure which has now emerged [in Syria] is heading to a religious, sectarian and a racist civil war," Erdogan told reporters with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Ankara. "This has to be prevented.

"Turkey has to make its priority to take a role here, because a civil war, which can emerge here, would also put us in distress," Erdogan said. "It also poses a threat for us."

He did not say whether that role could include military involvement to prevent civil war in Syria.

"I believe that the Syrian administration has by now killed close to 7,000 of its citizens," said Erdogan, whose country was a Syrian ally until August, when Turkish President Abdullah Gul said his country had "lost confidence" in Syria's leadership.

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