Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has given his first public speech in seven months – rejecting the idea of talks with what he described as the “puppet” opposition. Speaking to a raptuous crowd in Damascus, Assad, who has not been seen in public since November, blamed the conflict on outside forces using a “handful of Syrians and many foreigners.” He also said the country is “in a state of war in every sense of the word”. “The relationship between the opposition and the Syrian regime must be internal, but if an internal part is managed by the outside there is a relationship between inside and outside, between the country’s liberation and it’s independence. It has now become a matter of international politics, with outside forces becoming involved,” Assad told the audience. The president branded opposition fighters “terrorists” and “murderous criminals”. His proposals for a peace plan include a new constitution and an amnesty. He also appealed for dialogue once fighting ends. However, there was no talk of him stepping down.