Syria's Assad to Address Nation as Troops Continue Bloody Crackdown

Syrian president to speak about 'current developments in Syria' on Monday; speech follows weekend of further government operations against opponents and deserters in north-western Syria.

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday plans to make a third major speech since protests against his government began in mid-March, the state news agency SANA reported.

The speech would be about "current developments in Syria" and would take place at noon local time, the agency said late Sunday without elaborating.

Syria's Assad - AP - April 16, 2011

Despite brutal suppression by Assad's regime, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets in the past three months to demand greater democracy and civil liberties. Human rights groups have said more than 1,300 civilians have been killed in the unrest.

The latest crackdowns came at the weekend in north-western Syria when government forces besieged several towns. Tanks and machine guns were sent in Saturday to stop anti-government rallies in Bdama near the Turkish border, opposition groups said. Army forces fired randomly at houses and besieged the town, injuring at least 20 people, they said.

The incident was part of operations against government opponents and deserters in Idlib province, which have seen more than 10,500 people, including 5,300 children, flee to Turkey in the past 10 days, Turkey's Anadolu news agency said Sunday.

The Turkish government has allocated about 2.3 million dollars to care for the refugees living in four tent cities. Human rights activists said they fear the besiegement of Bdama could cut off a route for Syrians seeking to flee into Turkey.

Assad's speech is to come on the same day that foreign ministers of the European Union are to debate a tightening of sanctions against his government.

A travel ban and asset freeze against 23 Syrians, including Assad, has been in place since May, but the EU is also considering expanding that list and halting business contacts with certain Syrian companies.

Assad first addressed the nation after the protests began on March 30 and blamed the unrest on foreign conspirators. His second speech was on April 16 to announce the end to an emergency law in place since 1963. Neither address succeeded in putting the brakes on the demonstrations.