Last updated: 16 May, 2012

Syrians back regime, Assad tells Russia TV

Syrians showed in elections this month that they support the government’s policy of reform and a majority back the regime, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview broadcast Wednesday.

The results of the May 7 legislative poll showed that the Syrian people “are until now supporting the policy of reform” and “support the institutions of the state”, Assad told Russia’s Rossia-24 state news channel.

Assad, whose regime has been engaged in a bloody standoff with opposition rebels, lashed out at “threats of terrorists” which he said were aimed at preventing the elections from taking place.

“The Syrian people are not scared of the threats of terrorists who have tried to wreck the elections or even prevent us from holding them,” he added in the interview.

Voter turnout was 51.26 percent, Syrian officials have said. So far only limited results have been released.

“The polling stations show the opinion of the people. It is a serious message for everyone both inside the country and also beyond its borders,” Assad added.

The interview, which was carried out by a Russian television journalist in Damascus, was conducted in English but heavily dubbed into Russian. Russia has refused to follow the West’s line by outright condemning the Assad regime.

An upsurge of violence in Syria, where activists say more than 12,000 people have been killed since March last year, has cast doubt on the future of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan which many commentators see as a final chance to stop civil war.

Assad complained that since the arrival of UN observers monitoring the Annan plan there had been a reduction in “direct confrontation” between the two sides but an increase in “terrorist attacks”.

Accusing the West of ignoring opposition violence, he said: “They only talk about violence, violence on the government side. There is not a word about the terrorists. We are still waiting.”

He said Annan was due again in Syria this month. “I will ask him what this is about.”

Assad denounced the armed opposition as a gang of “criminals” who he said contained religious extremists including members of Al-Qaeda.

“It is not an army and it is not free,” he said, referring to the opposition Free Syrian Army that is fighting the regime.

“They get money and weapons from abroad from various countries. It is a group of criminals who have for years broken the law and received convictions. There are also religious extremists there like from Al-Qaeda.”

Assad said that many “foreign mercenaries” from Arab countries fighting for the opposition had been killed but others were still alive.

“They have been captured and we are preparing to show them to the world,” he said, without giving further details.

The interviewer did not choose to probe Assad deeply over the crisis, instead throwing questions like: “Over the last year did you make any mistakes? What would you change if you could?”

“Public opinion after the crisis is over will show where you were right and where you were wrong. But now we are still in the crisis. We will talk about mistakes later,” Assad mused.

The interviewer also asked the president how he, as an “ordinary person”, felt about the “all the false information” published about himself and and his wife Asma al-Assad.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper earlier this year released e-mails claiming to show the ruling couple still shopping for luxury goods as the country slid into bloody chaos.

Assad dismissed the reports as “lies or rumours, call them what you like” but said the family had chosen not to react publicly to the claims as that would have been exploited by their foes.