Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'I will live and die in Syria,' embattled Assad vows

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BEIRUT -- Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed defiantly to "live and die" in Syria, saying in an interview broadcast Thursday he will never flee his country despite the bloody, 19-month-old uprising against him.

The broadcast comes two days after British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that Assad could be allowed safe passage out of the country if that would guarantee an end to the civil war, which activists estimate has killed more than 36,000 people.

"I am not a puppet, I was not made by the West for me to go to the West or any other country," Assad, 47, said in the interview with the English-language Russia Today TV. He spoke in English and excerpts of the interview were posted on the station's website Thursday with an Arabic voiceover.

"I am Syrian, I am made in Syria, and I will live and die in Syria," he said.

Assad also warned against foreign military intervention at a time when the West is taking steps to boost the opposition.

"I don't think the West is headed in this direction. But if it does, nobody can predict the consequences," he told the station.

The full interview will be broadcast today, the station said.

The excerpts show Assad casually talking and later walking with RT's reporter outside a house, wearing a grey suit and tie. It was not clear where the interview took place.

The uprising against Assad's regime began as mostly peaceful protests in March last year but quickly morphed into a civil war.

The fighting has taken on grim sectarian tones, with the predominantly Sunni rebels battling government forces loyal to a regime dominated by minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his country will deal directly with Syrian rebel military leaders.

He spoke during a trip to visit Syrian refugees in Jordan. Previously, Britain and the U.S. have acknowledged contacts only with exile groups and political opposition figures -- some connected to rebel forces -- inside Syria.

Assad has rarely appeared in public since the revolt began in March 2011.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2012 A19

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