Syrian president's speech fans flames of anger

YouTube video shows angry reaction in Syria to president Bashar al-Assad's speech Monday, June 20, 2011

Syria's president spoke to his people today for only the third time since a wave of protests broke out all over the country in March. Bashar al-Assad made vague promises of reform -- but a lot of Syrians don't believe it. Assad's family has ruled through violence for 40 years. Syria doesn't allow reporters inside so CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews is on the border in Turkey.

SYRIA-TURKEY BORDER -- In towns across Syria, and even in the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al Assad's speech was met with a wave of protests that began the moment he stopped speaking.

"We want freedom," the crowds chanted. "You are going down."

One group of protestors in Western Syria brandished their shoes -- the ultimate Arab insult -- as they shouted to Assad: "You are going down in the garbage of history."

Assad claimed to have heard the legitimate cries of the people. He promised to end government corruption, and start a dialog with opponents.

It was a speech that might have worked before a three-month crackdown, which has left, according to Syrian activists, some 1,400 demonstrators dead.

Assad still blames the protests on foreign conspiracies (AGENTS?) --still calls the lethal force justifed and calls the demonstrators vandals, saboteurs and murderers.

"What is happening today has nothing to do with reform. It has to do with vandalism. There can be no development without stability and no reform thru vandalism,'' Assad said.

Eyewitness accounts from inside Syria say Assad's army has been on a rampage in the country's northwest, emptying whole villages and towns. Refugees say troops arrested everyone they could catch, shot at anyone running away and apparently, to hasten starvation, burned the one bakery supplying bread to the Syrian refugees in the hills.

"They want to cut us off, cut off our water and bread supplies. Everything which was brought to this camp came from that town."

Syrian refugees who have made it into Turkey erupted in anger after Assad's speech -- a demonstration captured on a CBS News cell phone.

"We don't want Assad. We don't want Assad anymore," said one woman.

So the protestors want Assad gone. But he wants to remain in power and from what we are hearing here from Syrian/Turkish border, Scott, today's speech has stoked up the tensions inside Syria; he did not calm things down.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.