Assad sworn in for new seven-year term
Assad has defied calls by Western states for him to step aside during the conflict that started in 2011 with protests against his rule
Bashar al-Assad was sworn in on Wednesday as Syria’s president for a new seven-year term, in a red carpet ceremony in Damascus, after an election his opponents had slammed as a “farce.”
Assad swore by the Koran before the country’s parliamentarians in an extraordinary session, 40 months into a conflict estimated to have killed more than 170,000 people.
“Syrians, three years and four months... have passed since some cried ‘freedom’,” he said, referring to the start of a March 2011 revolt that demanded his ouster.
“They wanted a revolution, but you have been the real revolutionaries. I congratulate you for your revolution and for your victory,” Assad told his supporters.
“Those who lost their way can now see clearly... the monstrous faces have been unveiled, the mask of freedom and the revolution has fallen.”
More than 1,000 people were invited to the inauguration ceremony, with Assad arriving at the presidential palace in a black sedan car before being met on a red carpet by a military band, AFP reported.
Parliamentarians and other guests cheered for Assad in the hall where Assad was sworn in and then gave a speech.
Looking calm and confident, he repeatedly took aim at the West and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab monarchies who have funded and armed the rebels that have taken control of much of the north and east of the country but failed to topple him in Damascus.
“Soon we will see the Arab, regional and Western states that supported terrorism pay a high price,” he said in the speech at the presidential palace in Damascus, broadcast on state TV.
The Syria war has been the battleground for a sectarian struggle between groups supported by Sunni Muslim states and Assad’s government backed by Shi’ite Iran.
Last month it spread dramatically to Iraq, where an al-Qaeda offshoot called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria (ISIS) surged across the border, seized cities, changed its name to the Islamic State and declared its leader ruler of all Muslims.
ISIS has officially been rejected as a terrorist group by the Gulf states that support other Sunni fighters in Syria, but Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran all blame the Gulf states for supporting the wider Sunni militancy that feeds it.
Since advancing in Iraq, ISIShas also expanded its reach in Syria, using weapons seized from the fleeing Iraqi army to fight against rival rebel factions in Syria.
Assad took power in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez who ruled for three decades. He has held firmly onto control in Damascus since the revolt began, defying confident predictions by Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, that he would be swiftly toppled, according to Reuters.
The revolt, which began with pro-democracy protests in 2011 that Assad dismissed in his speech as the “fake Arab Spring,” rapidly descended into sectarian civil war in which more than 170,000 people have been killed. According to the United Nations, 10.8 million Syrians now urgently need aid.
Western countries lined up from the outset behind the rebels that opposed Assad, but unlike in the case of Libya, where NATO warplanes helped bring down dictator Muammar Qaddafi, they have refused to provide overt military support.
Obama threatened air strikes last year after blaming Assad for a poison gas attack that killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb. But the United States called off the operation when Assad agreed to give up chemical arms, effectively ending any threat that the West might use force to remove him.
Western countries dismissed last month’s election as a sham, but Assad’s victory affirmed him in power and shut down any talk of a negotiated settlement that would see him step aside.
“I repeat my call today to those who were misled to put down their guns, because we will not stop fighting terrorism and striking it wherever it is until we restore security to every spot of Syria,” said Assad.
Assad’s inauguration featured the display of carefully orchestrated adulation that has been typical of his infrequent public appearances since the start of the war.
[With Reuters and AFP]
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