By Ray Fleming

TOMORROW is the 100th day of street demonstrations in Syria. They began when President Assad made a speech which lacked action on any of the reforms he had been hinting at for some time. Yesterday another speech at Damascas University was more of the same -- promising electoral reform, a freer press and “national dialogue” but lacking any detail or undertaking to rein in the lawless security services. There were some points of interest in the speech:

Assad acknowledged that 1'400 citizens had been killed, that Syria's international reputation had been “tarnished” and that the economy is in a dangerous state. He also put the number of Syrians who have crossed the border to Turkey at 10'000; he pleaded with them to return home without fear of reprisal -- an empty offer unless Syria's security services are withdrawn from the northwest of the country. Reaction to Assad's speech by leaders of the street protests was quick and negative. His continuing insistence that the demonstrations are caused by “saboteurs with guns” was seen as evidence that he has still not fully understood the passion for change that is now at large in his country. A further indication of his blindness to reality was his suggestion that elections might take place in August, and the national dialogue on reform complete its work by September. It will need much longer than that.

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