DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed "conspirators" Wednesday for an extraordinary wave of dissent against his authoritarian rule, but he failed to lift the country's despised emergency law or offer any concessions in his first speech since the protests began nearly two weeks ago.
Within hours of Assad's speech, residents of the port city of Latakia said troops opened fire during a protest by about 100 people — although it was not immediately clear whether they were firing in the air or at the protesters. The residents asked that their names not be published for fear of reprisals.
Assad said Wednesday that Syria is facing "a major conspiracy" that aims to weaken this country of 23 million. The Assad family has ruled Syria for nearly 40 years, using the feared security services to monitor and control even the smallest rumblings of opposition. Draconian laws have all but eradicated civil liberties and political freedoms.