Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has proposed holding a national dialogue that will recommend sweeping reforms aimed at transforming the political landscape.

In an address on Monday at Damascus University, Mr. Assad said around 100 people from all walks of life would participate in this dialogue, organised around “committees”, and recommendations would be made within 30 to 60 days.

The Syrian President pledged his “total commitment” to fundamental reforms, including the drafting of a new Constitution. He said changes would cover the political arena and would create greater media freedoms.

On demonstrators

On the on-going protests, Mr. Assad said the demonstrations comprised three core sets of people: those who were peaceful and had legitimate demands, those who were “vandals” and “outlaws” [estimated at around 64,000], and “radical and blasphemous intellectuals”. He said Syria was a victim of “foreign conspiracies” hatched for “geopolitical and other reasons”.

Stressing the adoption of a dual approach, Mr. Assad said his government would continue to confront those who carried weapons but would engage those seeking reforms without pursuing a subversive agenda. He also said corruption needed to be uprooted and, simultaneously, an extraordinary effort was required to prevent the economy from collapsing.

Despite Mr. Assad's promises, there were reports of sporadic protests in some Syrian cities soon after he concluded his address.

However, no major protests were held in the two largest cities — Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital. Analysts point out the regime continues to enjoy the support of three major demographic segments — the Christians, who form around 10 per cent of the population; the Druze community; and the Allawites, the President's kinsmen who pack the Army's officer corps.

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