Syrian President Bashar Assad has told his country's parliament that there's a "plot" against his country, the BBC reports.
He's addressing the parliament and his nation this hour. The speech comes as protests in several cities continue to put pressure on the Assad regime to lift "emergency" restrictions that have been in place for about 50 years and to make other reforms.
Reuters says Assad spoke of a "big conspiracy" against Syria, but also said his government supports reforms. And, he claimed that government forces have been ordered not to harm any Syrians, Reuters says — though there are reports of many deaths in recent days.
James Hider, Middle East bureau chief for The Times of London, told Morning Edition host Renee Montagne today that people coming out of Syria and across the border with Jordan say that in the city of Daraa (where the largest protests have been held), thousands of government troops and other security forces have sealed the area.
But many people remain defiant, Hider said. Friday, imams were told by the government to read sermons condemning the protesters. At some mosques, people told Hider, worshipers shouted down the imams. At others, the clerics refused to deliver the messages.
Update at 12:55 p.m. ET. More Protests:
From Amman, Jordan, The Associated Press reports that "hundreds of people took to the streets on Wednesday in the [Syrian] port city of Latakia chanting 'freedom" after President Bashar al-Assad made a speech playing down unprecedented protests against his rule. Several residents said they heard shots fired in the al-Sleibeh old district of the city."
Update at 8:45 a.m. ET. Assad Offers No Concessions:
The Associated Press leads its latest story with this: "Syria's president has blamed the wave of protests against his authoritarian rule on 'conspirators' [and] failed to offer any concessions to appease the extraordinary wave of dissent. In an unusually short speech, President Bashar Assad blamed satellite TV stations and other media of fabricating lies and said Syria has overcome conspiracies targeting it before and will do so again."