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Syrian president outlines new peace initiative, says funding for rebels must stop first

 (AP)

Syrian President Bashar Assad has outlined a new peace initiative that includes a national reconciliation conference and a new constitution.

Assad, however, says the initiative can only take roots after regional and Western countries stop funding what he called militant extremists fighting to overthrow him.

Assad spoke Sunday in a rare speech addressing the nation, his first since June.

As in previous speeches, he said his forces were fighting groups of "murderous criminals" and jihadi elements and denied there was an uprising against his family's decades-long rule.

He struck a defiant tone, saying Syria will not take dictates from anyone.

His initiative is likely to be rejected by opposition forces and rebels, who insist he must step down.