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Syria's Bashar al-Assad 'feels no guilt' over crackdown

Syria's president has said that he feels no guilt about his crackdown on a 10-month uprising, despite reports of brutality by security forces.

In an interview with the US network ABC, Bashar al-Assad said he had given no orders for violence to be used against protesters but admitted "mistakes" were made.

He said he did not own the security forces or the country.

At least 4,000 people have been killed since the uprising began, the UN says.

However, Mr Assad said the UN was not credible.

Syria blames the violence on "armed criminal gangs".

Mr Assad's interview comes a day after the US announced that its ambassador in Syria, Robert Ford, would return to Damascus after he was withdrawn in October because of security concerns.

France's ambassador returned on Monday.

Responding to questions from veteran presenter Barbara Walters about the brutality of the crackdown, Mr Assad said he did not feel any guilt.

"I did my best to protect the people, so I cannot feel guilty," he said. "You feel sorry for the lives that has [sic] been lost. But you don't feel guilty - when you don't kill people."

"We don't kill our people… no government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person," he added.

The security forces were not his, nor did he command them, the Syrian president said.

"There was no command, to kill or to be brutal," he said.

"I don't own them, I am president, I don't own the country so they are not my forces."

President Assad's responses to ABC's questions about security showed that he was keen to deflect allegations of brutality levelled against his security forces.

By giving the interview in the first place, he was clearly concerned to reach out to American public opinion and policy-makers to correct the wrong impressions he believes they are being given about what is happening in Syria.

While not denying excesses, he challenged the "false allegations" on which much of the media - and the UN's Human Rights Commission - based their conclusions.

He appeared confident that his embattled regime would weather the internal challenge as well as outside pressures from sanctions.

He believed the majority of Syrians - who he said were neither for nor against the regime - would be won over by reforms which he said would give other parties a chance.

Instead he blamed the violence on criminals, religious extremists and terrorists sympathetic to al-Qaeda, who he said were mingling with peaceful protesters.

He said most of those killed were from government supporters, with 1,100 soldiers and police among the dead.

Those members of the security forces who had exceeded their powers had been punished, he said.

"Every 'brute reaction' was by an individual, not by an institution, that's what you have to know," he said.

"There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials. There is a big difference."

When challenged about reports of house-to-house arrests, including of children, Mr Assad said the sources could not be relied upon.

"We have to be here to see. We don't see this. So we cannot depend on what you hear," he said.

The United Nations, which has said the Syrian government committed crimes against humanity, was not credible, Mr Assad said.

He described Syria's membership of the UN as "a game we play".

Asked if he feared sharing the fate of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi or ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Mr Assad said the only thing he was afraid of was losing the support of his own people.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner condemned the Syrian president's position.

"I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some sort of shell game [and] claim that he doesn't exercise authority in his own country," he said.

"There's just no indication that he's doing anything other than cracking down in the most brutal fashion on a peaceful opposition movement."—BBC

 

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