Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses parliament on March 30, 2011 in Damascus, Syria. Al-Assad ordered a committee to conduct an investigation into the deaths of protesters and also to study the lifting of emergency laws. UPI | License Photo
DAMASCUS, Syria, June 20 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad Monday blamed terrorist elements and foreign conspirators for the country's unrest.
Speaking at Damascus University in his third televised address since anti-government protests began in March, Assad praised the Syrian people's patriotism. He said they stood against those seeking to carry out "massacres against innocent civilians and security forces."
Assad said about 64,000 people are wanted for their involvement in the violence.
His speech was broadcast live by networks, including the BBC and Sky News, which ran simultaneous translations.
One must differentiate between legitimate protesters and terrorists, Assad declared.
The unrest is caused by "terrorists" who spread riots and disorder under the guise of freedom and democracy, he said.
Those are the people who who are threatening the normal way of life in Syria, Assad said. He said it is up to Syria to solve its own problems.
The people causing unrest in Syria are in contact with "foreign armies" and in possession of communications equipment and arms never before seen in the country, Assad said.
They tried to take over strategic installations but were stopped by the armed forces, he said.
Assad said a clemency policy for political activists will be expanded and some of the demands made by the protesters will be met.
He suggested engaging this summer in a national dialogue, which could lead to a new constitution.
Hours before the speech, Syrian opposition groups announced the formation of a National Council.
Establishment of the council just a week after opposition coordination committees were formed would "abort any positive impact" of Assad's address, Gulfnews.com said.
Syrian troops Sunday set fires and blocked refugees from fleeing into Turkey, witnesses said.
Troops and mercenaries pillaged the northwest Syrian border village of Bdama, burning buildings and starting forest fires, shutting down businesses -- including the village's only bakery -- arresting at least 70 people and setting up military checkpoints along all main roads to prevent anyone from fleeing to Turkey, witnesses and rights activists said.