Beirut: Syria`s embattled President said Monday that "saboteurs" are trying to exploit legitimate demands for reform, as the regime faces its most powerful challenge in more than four decades.
President Bashar Assad`s televised address was only his third public speech since the country`s uprising began in March, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
"What is happening today has nothing to do with reform, it has to do with vandalism," Assad told a crowd of supporters at Damascus University. "There can be no development without stability, and no reform through vandalism. ... We have to isolate the saboteurs."
He warned that the country`s economy will take a beating unless the unrest ends.
"The most dangerous thing we face in the coming period is the weakness or the collapse of the Syrian economy," Assad said, standing in front of six red, white and green Syrian flags.
Assad`s message is not new: Since the uprising broke out, the Syrian government has claimed the unrest is being driven by armed thugs and a foreign conspiracy, not true reform seekers.