Assad sworn in, takes swipe at West over revolt

Syrian president brands 2011 Arab uprisings a ‘fake spring’

DAMASCUS – Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in on Wednesday for a new seven-year term, warning Western and Arab governments they will pay dearly for backing those who took up arms against him.

In a triumphant speech delivered after he took the oath of office at a red carpet ceremony in Damascus, Assad branded the 2011 Arab uprisings a fake spring. Assad, 48, won a June election despite a revolt against his government. “Syrians, three years and four months... have passed since some cried freedom,” Assad declared, referring to the 2011 revolt.

“They wanted a revolution, but you have been the real revolutionaries. I congratulate you for your revolution and for your victory,” Assad told his supporters. “Those who lost their way can now see clearly... the monstrous faces have been unveiled, the mask of freedom and the revolution has fallen,” he said.

Assad's inauguration comes with much of the world's attention focused elsewhere, as violence engulfs Iraq and Gaza even though his troops continue to pound rebel-held areas of second city Aleppo. During the first two years of the Syrian revolt, the opposition's Western and Arab supporters repeatedly insisted he must step down.

But the rise of the Islamic State (IS) has turned the tide and raised fears about the future. Assad has repeatedly branded the revolt as a foreign-backed ‘terrorist plot,’ refusing to recognise any movement for change. More than 1,000 people were invited to the Wednesday's inauguration, with Assad arriving at the presidential palace in a black sedan car before being met on the red carpet by a military band.

Parliamentarians and other guests cheered for Assad in the hall where he spoke. Assad won the June 3 election by 88.7 per cent, defeating two other opponents. The opposition National Coalition branded the election a ‘farce’ even before it was staged. Analysts say the rise of the jihadists has been a gift for Assad, who from the outset branded the revolt as a foreign-backed terrorist plot.

The Syrian leader would try to take advantage of the West's fear of extremism and present himself as a bulwark against the phenomenon, they said. Following in the footsteps of his father and predecessor Hafez, who ruled Syria with an iron fist for 30 years, Assad has ignored the calls for his ouster. Assad's regime has been propped up with the tireless financial, military and diplomatic backing of allies – Iran and Russia.

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Aaj Kal