Syrian president blames protests on 'conspirators'
Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed "conspirators" Wednesday for an extraordinary wave of dissent against his authoritarian rule. . . Within hours of Assad's speech, residents of the port city of Latakia said troops opened fire during a protest by about 100 people. . . 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. . . The unrest in Syria, a strategically important country, could have implications well beyond its borders given its role as Iran's top Arab ally and as a front line state against Israel. . .
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