Defiant Assad dismisses US and European calls to resign

Mon, Aug 22, 2011, 01:00

SYRIAN PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad yesterday dismissed US and European calls for his resignation, arguing that he has been appointed by the Syrian people not US president Barack Obama and other western leaders.

Noting the disasters caused by US-led interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya which have led to the deaths of thousands, he said the plan was to “destroy Syria from within” but that no one would be allowed interfere with its sovereignty. He warned against military intervention which would have “repercussions”.

Although he spoke with quiet defiance, he appeared relaxed while answering questions put by two interviewers in an informal setting intended to reassure Syrians who continue to support his government and show the international community that he has not been rattled by sharp criticisms of the military crackdown on dissent.

Human rights organisations and foreign governments have accused his security forces of firing on largely unarmed protesters and estimate that at least 1,700 people have been killed during demonstrations. The government argues it is facing not only protesters with legitimate grievances but also armed extremists determined to destroy the country.

In his only reference to internal unrest, he admitted the situation seems “dangerous, [but] we are able to deal with it”, denying that his government was in any danger of falling.

He said “Syria needs a political solution” to five months of unrest, “not a military solution”. He denied allegations that the three major reforms introduced since the uprising began are on paper only. “After the reforms are enacted, Syria will be a model for the region,” he said.

He reiterated his contention that issues must be resolved through national dialogue which would guide reform and the amendment of the constitution.

Next week, new political parties would be able to register with a commission consisting of the interior minister and three independent figures. He said local elections could come first and then parliamentary elections next February.

Commenting on the threat of fresh economic sanctions, he said the situation in the country had improved over the past two months and observed that “blockades have a bad effect on others.”

The US has recently pressed Italy, Germany, Holland and France to boycott Syrian oil and gas, which bring Damascus a daily revenue of $7-$8 million. Such action would harm the economy but not cripple the government’s ability to continue military operations against protesters.

Dr Assad made his comments as a UN humanitarian mission arrived in Syria to assess the situation, particularly to see how health services, electricity, water and communications are functioning.

On Saturday, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Dr Assad has to “reconcile with the people . . . The situation is not sustainable. The Syrian leadership must understand this.”

His comments are of importance to Dr Assad because Turkey has so far refused to call upon him to step down. It is not clear whether Dr Assad’s timetable for elections fits into the roadmap drawn up by Turkey with the aim of resolving the crisis.