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Assad gives defiant speech as Syrian rebels edge closer to Damascus

Louai Beshara / AFP - Getty Images

People watch Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad making a public address on state-run Syrian TV on Jan. 6 in Damascus. In a rare speech, Assad denounced the opposition as 'slaves' of the West and called for a national dialogue conference to be followed by a referendum on a national charter and parliamentary elections.

Speaking before an overwhelmingly supportive crowd that interrupted his speech with chants and rapturous applause several times, Syrian President Bashar Assad offered no concessions and even appeared to harden many of his positions. He rallied Syrians for "a war to defend the nation" and disparaged the prospect of negotiations. There was little to no acknowledgement that there are Syrians themselves who have taken up the fight.

"We do not reject political dialogue ... but with whom should we hold a dialogue? With extremists who don't believe in any language but killing and terrorism?" Assad asked.

-- Reported by NBC News and wire services

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In the midst of civil war, Syrian President Bashar Assad addressed the country Sunday for the first time since June. He said he would continue to fight violence, blaming the crisis in Syria on al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.