President of Syria Bashar al-Assad has dismissed his cabinet in an effort to satiate protesters after two weeks of unrest, mirroring the approach of desposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
At one stage the 45 year-old Western-educated leader had promised to step down at the end of his term, but now appears to be trying to placate the protesters with the heads of his cabinet ministers.
Death tolls from the crackdowns have reached 130, according to activists in the country, while the official count is 30.
AFP reported that Syrian authorities were now “studying the liberalisation of laws on media and political parties as well as anti-corruption measures.”
In his first speech since the uprising began, Assad claimed that genuine protesters calling for reform were being led astray by instigators and “foreign plots”.
Syria, he claimed, was “a target of a big plot from outside, both internally and externally. If there is something happening it is using the cover of accusing Syria of popular response. If there are reformers we will support them. Those people have mixed and confused intellectual ways.”
“The plotters are the minority… we didn’t know what had happened until the sabotage operations had happened, since then we could see the difference between reform and killing. We are for people’s demands but we cannot support chaos and destruction.”
The US has backed calls for reforms in Syria – a key antagonist of the country’s Israeli allies – but stood short of calling for regime change.
“”We support the timely implementation of reforms that meet the demands that Syrians are presenting to their government, such as immediately eliminating Syria’s state of emergency laws,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We want to see peaceful transitions and we want to see democracies that represent the will of the people.”
Meanwhile besieged Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, who has refused to step down even as rebel forces take town after town on the road to Tripoli, backed by NATO air power, has lashed out at world leaders for their interference.
“Stop your barbaric and unjust offensive against Libya,” Gaddafi wrote in a letter to the European Parliament and the US Congress, warning that the country was on the brink of becoming a second Afghanistan”.
“Leave Libya for the Libyans. You are carrying out an operation to exterminate a peaceful people and destroy a developing country. We are united behind the leadership of the revolution, facing the terrorism of al-Qaida on the one hand and on the other hand terrorism by Nato, which now directly supports al-Qaida,” he wrote.