11 Jan 2012

Syrian leader blames external conspiracy

6:02 am on 11 January 2012

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has blamed a foreign conspiracy for trying to destabilise Syria.

In his first public remarks for months, Mr Assad said regional and international sides have tried to destabilise the country, the BBC reports.

Protests against his rule began in March last year and the UN said last month that more than 5000 civilians have been killed.

Mr Assad said elections could be held later this year but terrorism, which he blames for the unrest, would be met with an iron fist.

The president said the external conspiracy was clear to everybody.

Meanwhile the Arab League said it held the government "totally responsible" for attacks against its observers.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said some monitors had been wounded in attacks by both pro-regime elements and by opposition supporters.

Opposition groups have accused the Arab League mission of serving to cover up the crackdown on the protests, which has continued despite the presence of the observers.

Mr Assad said that there were no orders for security forces to fire on protesters.

The Arab League suspended Syria in November.