Bashar Assad Sworn in as Syria's Leader
DAMASCUS, Syria -- Standing under a huge portrait of his late father, Bashar Assad assumed Syria's presidency before a cheering legislature yesterday and quickly rejected Western-style democracy and territorial concessions to Israel.
Assad, a 34-year-old former eye doctor and the chosen successor of Hafez Assad, addressed the People's Assembly, or parliament, after a swearing-in ceremony that finalized his smooth ascent to power. He pledged to carry on his father's policies.
"We cannot apply the democracy of others on ourselves," he said in his inaugural address. "We have to have our democratic experience which is special to us, which stems from our history, culture, civilization and which is a response to the needs of our society and the requirements of our reality."
"The political strategy which [Hafez Assad] devised and supervised . . . proved a great success until this very day," he said.
Discussing Mideast peace, Assad said the recovery of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967, "is at the top of our national priorities." He urged the United States "to play its full role as an honest broker and a co-sponsor" of Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
He stressed Syria will not deviate from his late father's rejection of any territorial compromises.
"We have the urge to reach a state of peace, but we have no urge to compromise an inch of our territory," he said.
In Thurmont, Md., State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent messages of congratulations to Assad. Clinton and Albright are attending Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Thurmont.
Boucher said Albright also welcomed Assad's affirmation of Syria's interest in the Mideast peace process and his recognition of Washington's role.
Assad's inaugural address was met with the qualified approval of his exiled uncle Rifaat Assad, who tried to overthrow Hafez Assad in 1983-84 and said after his brother's June 10 death that he would return to Syria at the "appropriate" time to run for the presidency. …