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Syria's Assad vents in rare interview

By Juergen Baetz

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 8 2012 10:04 p.m. MDT

This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network SNN, taken on Friday, July 6, 2012, purports to show Syrian children chanting slogans during a demonstration in Idlib, north Syria. Syria's military began large-scale exercises simulating defense against outside "aggression," the state-run news agency said Sunday an apparent warning to other countries not to intervene in the country's crisis. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)T

Associated Press

BERLIN — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview broadcast Sunday that he is not afraid of meeting the same fate as the deposed and disgraced leaders of Libya and Egypt, saying he has nothing in common with them.

In one of his rare interviews with Western media since the deadly uprising in Syria erupted last year, Assad brushed off a question about whether he feared for his family, including his wife and three children.

"It's a completely different situation," he told German broadcaster ARD. "What's happening in Egypt is different from what is happening in Syria ... You cannot compare," he said.

He also rejected any comparisons with Libya, where rebels helped by NATO air strikes toppled the regime. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed while fleeing advancing opposition fighters.

"Describing what happened to al Gadhafi, this is savage, this is crime," he said in the interview which was conducted in English.

The 16 months of upheaval in Syria, spurred by the Arab Spring's pro-democracy movements across the Middle East, have left well over 14,000 people dead, according to activists. They accuse the autocratic ruler of crushing legitimate protests seeking reforms by waging a war against his own people.

But in the interview, the 46-year-old Assad who has ruled Syria since taking over from his father in 2000, accused the U.S. of fueling the uprising, saying that Washington ultimately bears responsibility for the deaths of innocent civilians in the Middle Eastern nation.

The U.S. is partnering with those "terrorists ... with weapons, money or public and political support at the United Nations," Assad said. "They offer the umbrella and political support to those gangs to ... destabilize Syria."

Assad rejected responsibility of his security forces for the violence, claiming that "supporters of the government, the victims from the security and the army" far outnumber those among civilians.

Instead, he told ARD that an opposition made up of terrorists, gangs, "a mixture, an amalgam of Al Qaida (and) other extremists" is responsible for the violence.

When asked directly about the killing of more than 100 civilians in the Syrian village of Houla in May, he blamed it on gangs who "came in hundreds from outside the city."

The massacre caused an international outcry, and U.N. investigators have since concluded that Syrian government troops could be behind the killings.

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