Assad claims ‘victory’ as he is sworn in for third term
Syria’s president to serve for a further seven years
Bashar al-Assad reviews the guard of honour on his arrival at his swearing in ceremony at the presidential palace in Damascus on Wednesday. He was elected for another seven-year term with 88.7 per cent of the vote in an election in June. Photograph: EPA/Sana
Bashar al-Assad has been sworn in for a third term as Syria’s president, defiantly scorning enemies at home and abroad and claiming victory over those who have tried and failed to overthrow him.
Mr Assad spoke in the presidential palace in Damascus on Wednesday, six weeks after winning an election his critics had dismissed as a farce, against the backdrop of a war that has claimed up to 160,000 lives and made millions refugees.
“Syrians, three years and four months . . . have passed since some cried ‘freedom’,” Mr Assad said, referring to the start of an uprising at the height of the Arab spring in March 2011 that demanded his removal. “They wanted a revolution, but you have been the real revolutionaries. I congratulate you for your revolution and for your victory.”
More than 1,000 people were invited to the inauguration ceremony, with Assad arriving at the palace in a black limousine and being welcomed on a red carpet by a military band. He swore the oath of office on a copy of the Qur’an, vowing to “respect the constitution and the laws and preserve the people’s interests.” His new term, like his two previous ones, is for seven years.
MPs, Muslim and Christian clergymen and other guests cheered him in a hall that displayed a photograph of his late father, Hafez al-Assad, the former president, whom he succeeded in 2000.
“Those who lost their way can now see clearly . . . the monstrous faces have been unveiled, the mask of freedom and the revolution has fallen,” Mr Assad said. Syria had faced “foreign aggression” using local agents. “Soon we will see that the Arab, regional and western states that supported terrorism will pay a high price. We are people who become more defiant under pressure and who face attempts to humiliate us with more pride, dignity and self-confidence.”
Mr Assad won the June election – held only in regime-controlled territories – with an 88.7 per cent share of the vote, defeating two other candidates who were seen as figureheads rather than genuine opponents. Polling did not take place in large areas of northern and eastern Syria.
The location of the ceremony, which was originally scheduled for Thursday, was not disclosed until the last minute, presumably for security reasons, though the centre of Damascus is calm.
Mr Assad’s words, prefigured in a Guardian interview with Syria’s deputy foreign minister this week, reflected a growing sense of confidence that the tide has turned in favour of the government. Damascus, Homs and most other big cities are secure, while in rebel-held areas government forces are able to exploit fighting between the jihadists of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and more mainstream western- and Arab-backed groups.
Mr Assad presents himself as the only alternative to fanatical terrorists he identified with “killing, destroying, eating hearts and livers, slaughtering and beheading”, and is playing on security fears about blowback from the Syrian war to Europe as well as US reluctance to be drawn any further into another Middle Eastern entanglement. War-weariness among ordinary Syrians is also playing into his hands.
A western diplomat said: “Assad has been highly successful at the strategy of regime survival at all costs. If he can hold on, people may come round to thinking that he is the only feasible partner in the fight against a common enemy.”
Mr Assad said national reconciliation was possible with all those who were not fighting the government. He thanked his close allies - Russia, China, Iran and the Lebanese Shia movement Hizbullah - for their support during the crisis.