Syria Leader, in Rare TV Interview, Disparages Opponents (NY) TIMES) By NEIL MacFARQUHAR and ANDREW E. KRAMER BEIRUT, LEBANON 05/17/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said in an
interview broadcast Wednesday that he faced no real domestic
opposition in the 15-month-old uprising against him, the violence in
his country is entirely the work of foreign-backed terrorists, and
the boycott of parliamentary elections last week was a fiction.
The interview, conducted on Tuesday by Russiya 24, a Russia state
television station, was Mr. Assad’s first since December. It
suggested he had hardened longstanding views about his adversaries in
the face of escalating international pressure. He also was dismissive
of a question over why the political reforms sought by opponents was
so slow in Syria.
“We have an acute problem with terrorism,” he said, “Terrorists don’t
care about reform, they are not fighting for reform.”
Street protests that erupted in March 2011 demanding greater
democratic freedoms in Syria were met with a widespread security
crackdown. An estimated 10,000 civilians have been killed as well as
hundreds of soldiers. The United Nations continues to say that an
unacceptable level of violence exists in Syria, laying the onus on
the government to withdraw its troops and heavy armaments from major
population centers first to allow an April 12 truce to take hold.
A recent Syrian protest movement called “Stop the Killing” has
emerged in Damascus and other cities, trying to reclaim the initial
peaceful nature of the calls for change. Many of its organizers have
been arrested. Activists said the gradual arming of the opposition
came in response to the government’s unbridled repression of
“The political course will not free us from terror,” said Mr. Assad.
Mr. Assad has been promising political reforms since 2001, when he
inherited the presidency from his father, who had ruled for 30 years.
But he said many Syrians believed that political reforms came
about “too early.”
The results of the latest round of parliamentary elections indicated
that the ruling Baath Party and its handpicked opposition had
captured two-thirds of the seats in the 250-seat people’s assembly.
The elections were boycotted in many cities.
Mr. Assad denied in the interview that there had been any boycott,
although amateur videos posted on election day, May 7, from embattled
cities like Homs, Hama and Deraa showed them basically shut down in
protest of the elections.
“The polling stations reflect the opinions of the people,” Mr. Assad
said. “The results show that the Syrian people support the course
toward the reforms which were announced about a year ago.”
In announcing the results, the election commission said that turnout
exceeded 51 percent, but refused to specify turnout rates in cities
under siege by government attacks.
Mr. Assad said that neighboring states like Jordan and Lebanon had
been helping to thwart the shipment of weapons and the infiltration
of fighters because they were aware that the “chaos” could spread to
them, and he said Europe and the West should be aware of the same
danger in supporting the opposition.
The opposition maintains that the Assad regimes continues to label
all opponents as terrorists to justify its armed crackdown and to
prevent any nonviolent protest movement from jelling that could bring
about the government’s downfall.
Neil MacFarquhar reported from Beirut and Andrew E. Kramer from
Moscow. Nikolai Khalip contributed reporting from Moscow.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 16, 2012 An earlier version of this article said
incorrectly that Neil MacFarquhar reported from Baghdad; he reported
from Beirut. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 05/17/12)
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