Assad's call for peace 'hollow words': Baird

Credits: REUTERS/Patrick Doyle


OTTAWA - As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad calls for national reconciliation to end his country's civil war, Canada's foreign minister is telling the Middle East dictator to save his breath.

"Assad's words have rung hollow for the 22 months the Syrian people have fought for his departure from office," John Baird said in an e-mail to QMI Agency. "In that time, more than 60,000 Syrians - many of them civilian women and children - have been killed."

Assad delivered his own hour-long aria at the Damascus Opera House on Sunday, speaking publicly for the first time since June.

He called for reconciliation on the one hand, but issued a call to arms on the other to defeat the opposition forces in his country.

"We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word,"  Assad said in the speech. "This war targets Syria using a handful of Syrians and many foreigners. Thus, this is a war to defend the nation."

Syria's opposition National Coalition dismissed the speech as an attempt to undermine efforts to broker some sort of international agreement to end the civil war and see Assad step down.

Among Assad's proposals is a demand that rebels stand down before Syria's army signs a ceasefire, a sure non-starter for the opposition.

Assad's speech also emphasized rebel links to Islamists, a point that hasn't been lost on Western governments.

Despite Washington's support for Syria's opposition, American officials have recognized a main Syrian rebel group as terrorists for its links to al-Qaida.

-- with files from Reuters

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