DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad joined thousands of his supporters today in an extremely rare public appearance, telling a pro- regime rally in the capital that the “ conspiracy” against his country will fail.

Dressed more casually than usual in a jacket but no tie, the president told the cheering crowd that he wanted to draw strength from them. Security guards surrounded him as supporters waved his portrait and raised Syrian flags.

“ It is important that we maintain our faith in the future,” said Assad, 46, who has made very few public appearances since the uprising against his regime began 10 months ago. “I have that faith in the future and we will undoubtedly triumph over this conspiracy.”

Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, has blamed the revolt on foreignbacked terrorists and conspirators. On Tuesday, he gave his first speech since June and said he would strike back at those who threaten his regime with an “iron hand.”

In both appearances, Assad appeared determined to show strength and confidence as the conflict in Syria is entering a new and heightened phase, with army defectors and some members of the opposition increasingly turning weapons on government targets.

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