Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his future should be decided by voters and denied that his nation is embroiled in a civil war.
“For the president to stay or leave is a popular issue,” Assad said in an interview with Russian state broadcaster RT in Damascus. The only way to determine who runs the country is “through the ballot box.”
Assad, speaking in English, said he will resist the campaign to oust him by the U.S., its Arab and European allies and Turkey. “If the Syrian people are against me, how can I be here?” he said.
The U.S. is pushing to unite the Syrian opposition while the rebels seek help from the outside world. The Syrian National Council, a largely expatriate opposition umbrella organization, is meeting in Qatar’s capital Doha to choose an 11-member executive body and a president to try to unify the opposition battling Assad’s government.
“It is about terrorists and support coming from abroad to support terrorists,” Assad said. “You have divisions, but divisions doesn’t mean civil war.”
The Syrian president compared his country’s conflict to the wars fought by Russian forces in the 1990s against pro-independence rebels in the mainly Muslim region of Chechnya, and denied any war crimes against civilians. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Amnesty International have said that forces loyal to Assad may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The army killed 90 people in clashes today, Al Arabiya television reported, citing the opposition National Coordinating Committee. At least 12 civilians were killed by shelling today in Deir Ezzour province, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More than 35,000 people have died since the uprising began in March 2011, the group says.
Syria’s army also clashed with rebels in Idlib in the north and areas around Damascus and Homs, the Syrian Observatory said on its Facebook page. Al Arabiya reported gunfire and explosions heard around the presidential palace in Damascus, without giving further information. There was heavy fighting in al-Sheikh Miskeen in Dara’a province after government forces stormed the city with tanks and armored vehicles, the Observatory said.
“We are implementing our constitution by protecting the civilian people,” Assad said. “The army cannot withstand for 20 months in difficult circumstances without having the embrace of the public in Syria. How could you have this embrace while killing your people?”
Assad vowed that he won’t flee from his country and warned that the cost of any Western military operation in Syria would be “more than the whole world can afford.” Syria is “the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region,” he said. “I have to live and die in Syria.”
Britain is examining the legality of supplying arms to Syrian rebels under clauses of a European Union embargo that allow exemptions in cases of humanitarian suffering, an official in Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said.
The conflict yesterday spilled over into Turkey, with stray bullets wounding three people in the border town of Ceylanpinar, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
About 5,000 Syrians have crossed to Ceylanpinar since early yesterday, said Veysel Dalmaz, the official in charge of accommodating refugees, according to Anatolia. The government said it was hosting 112,000 Syrian refugees as of Nov. 6. Anatolia also reported that 26 Syrian officers including two generals defected to Turkey today.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said today that the country hasn’t requested Patriot missiles from NATO to bolster air defenses at the Syrian border, though it’s ready to do so if needed. Turkish and Syrian forces have exchanged fire across the border, and Turkey has pushed for the creation of a buffer zone.
Assad took a swipe at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the RT interview. “Personally he thinks he is the new sultan of the Ottomans,” the Syrian president said. “He thinks he can control the region as it was during the Ottoman empire, with a different umbrella, Islamic.”
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