Syrian police fire at protesters in Latakia

Photo: Syrian police fire at protesters in Latakia / Arabic region

Police opened fire on protesters in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia shortly after President Bashar al-Assad ended his speech in parliament, opposition activists told the German Press Agency dpa.

Protests also erupted in the southern city of Daraa following the speech, the first by al-Assad since the protests began and in which he blamed the unrest on foreign conspirators.

While al-Assad delivered his speech in parliament, opposition members called on the protesters to "go down into the streets now and announce the uprising - control all the cities and declare civil disobedience from this moment onward."

In a speech that was frequently interrupted by cheers and applause, al-Assad said: "Syria today is subjected to a conspiracy from outside.

He said the objective of the conspirators, who make up a minority, was to "fragment and bring down Syria" and "enforce an Israeli agenda."

Speaking for the first time since anti-government protests began on March 15, al-Assad said the ruling Baath Party was studying ways to combat corruption and create more jobs.

There had been wide expectations that he would announce the lifting of emergency law, which has been in place since the Baath Party came to power in 1963.

There are no official figures for the numbers killed in the violent government crackdowns on protesters in recent weeks, but Human Rights Watch reported at least 73 deaths.

"Security forces were given clear orders not to injure any Syrians," said al-Assad, adding that those responsible for the bloodshed would be held accountable.

"The blood that was shed was Syrian blood, they are our brothers," he said.

The unrest in Syria was previously unimaginable in the country, where political freedoms are severely curbed.

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