19 January, 14:44

Assad says departure 'not under discussion' - Interfax

Assad says departure 'not under discussion' - Interfax

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Sunday he had no plans to stand down, stressing that only the Syrian people had the right to determine the country's future.

"If we wanted to surrender, we would have surrendered from the start," Assad told Russian parliament members during a meeting in Damascus, according to Russian news agency Interfax.

"This issue is not under discussion," he said when asked to comment on Western and opposition calls for him to stand down and take part in elections.

"Only the Syrian people can decide who should take part in elections," he said in remarks translated into Russian.

The regime has repeatedly refused to countenance the possibility of Assad stepping aside, setting up a clash with Syria's opposition, which has made that its sole aim at peace talks in Switzerland beginning Wednesday.

These diametrically opposed positions cast a shadow over the so-called Geneva-2 conference aimed at setting up a transitional government to lead Syria out of a nearly three-year war estimated to have killed more than 130,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

Assad surprised opposition’s reluctance to take part in elections

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not intend to leave the post of president of his own free will, the matter can be decided only by the Syrian people in the course of elections.

"If we had wanted to surrender, we would have surrendered from the very start. We stand at the guard of our motherland. This issue lies beyond the sphere of discussion. Only the Syrian people can decide who should take part in the elections," he said at a Sunday meeting with Russian MPs in Damascus.

That was his answer to members of the delegations who asked him about this attitude to the opinion of Western countries and some opposition leaders claiming that he must leave the political arena and whether he is ready to take part in the presidential election this year.

Expanding on his reply al-Assad invited the opposition to compete with him and take part in the upcoming presidential election.

"They claim that they have liberated 70% of the territory of Syria. So why shouldn't they take part in the elections and hope for the support of [the population in] the 70%" he said.

He added that not a single opposition leader has shown willingness to take part in direct political struggle.

He reminded the deputies that during a conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that over 50% of Syrians support al-Assad.

"If a little is added to the percentage named by the American secretary of state and this will mean full support for the incumbent president by the people," he said.The course of the talks were related to Interfax on Sunday by Alexander Yushchenko, a Communist State Duma deputy and member of the delegation of both houses of the Federal Assembly.

"We consider what we heard as al-Assad's confident position in the upcoming election. Moreover, our two-day visit to Syria during which we succeeded in meeting people gives us reasons to believe that the incumbent president will be supported by the Syrian nation," the deputy said.

More than one round of direct negotiations between Syrian parties planned during Geneva-2 - Lavrov

The upcoming Geneva-2 international conference on Syria will last more than one day and will include several rounds of direct negotiations between the Syrian government's and opposition representatives, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, the Voice of Russia correspondent reports.

"If you meant that Geneva-2 is only January 22, this is not so," Lavrov said in reply to a journalist's question at a press conference following talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday.

"Nobody knows how much time this will take, and the time parameters of the first round are being coordinated now, but it's clear that there'll be more than one such round, and therefore Geneva-2 will not finish but will only start on January 22," Lavrov said.

The conference will be opened on January 22 in the presence of the foreign ministers from a significant number of different countries, he said.

"These will be debates, in which the Syrian parties will certainly speak. They will be unveiled by the [UN] secretary general. All those who are not indifferent to the fate of the Syrian people and who are taking part in the conference will air their approaches," he said

Voice of Russia, AFP, Interfax

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