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Syria’s Assad takes ill during speech, returns to blast U.S. sanctions

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday that sweeping new U.S. sanctions amounted to a new stage of economic warfare against his government and were part of Washington’s long-standing efforts to “choke” Syrians’ living standards.

In a speech to deputies at the presidential palace, Assad also blamed the sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, for a fall in the local currency to new record lows, with panic buying of dollars by Syrians worried about their economic situation.

Assad said Western adversaries were waging a long-term economic war that Syria could surmount by raising its food self-sufficiency and by cracking down on corruption, which he said was wasting public funds needed to raise plunging living standards.

“The Caesar Act is not a separate case. It is another phase in stages of sanctions that preceded it for years and which have caused huge damage,” he told the deputies.

Earlier, state media had flashed that Assad had suffered low blood pressure for a few minutes while delivering a speech to parliament before resuming normally and that it would broadcast it later in the evening.

Assad was shown in a pre-recorded speech asking for a chair to rest after he stopped the speech and in the edited footage appeared again on television in front of the deputies.

“Doctors are the worst patients. In truth, I have not had anything to eat since yesterday, only some sugar and salt,” the 55-year-old former ophthalmologist said, without elaborating.

With respect to the coronavirus, Syria has seen a rising number of infections recently, although the overall reported numbers remain low with 1,327 confirmed cases and 53 deaths. Limited testing facilities and Syrian government control over pandemic statistics have led to concerns that the real number of cases is much higher than what’s being reported.

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