Syrian President Outlines Peace Initiative

BEIRUT (January 6, 2013)--President Bashar Assad Sunday called on Syrians to defend their country against religious extremists who he says seek to destroy Syria.

In a one-hour speech to the nation, Assad dismissed any prospect of dialogue with what he called the "murderous criminals" behind the uprising against his rule.

He said a peace initiative can only take root after regional and Western countries stop funding militant extremists fighting to overthrow him.

Assad outlined his vision for a peaceful settlement to the country's civil war that includes a national reconciliation conference and a new constitution.

Meanwhile, Syrian activists reported heavy clashes between rebels and government forces around the country ahead of the speech.

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