Assad denies ordering crackdown

Assad denies ordering crackdown

Speaking to ABC’s Barbara Walters in a rare interview that aired on Wednesday, Assad maintained he did not give any commands “to kill or be brutal.” “They’re not my forces,” Assad responded when asked if Syrian troops had cracked down too hard on protesters.
“They are military forces (who) belong to the government. I don’t own them. I’m president. I don’t own the country.”

In his role as president, Assad is the commander of Syria’s armed forces. The United Nations estimates more than 4,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March, many of them civilians and unarmed protesters demanding Assad’s ouster. “Who said the United Nations is a credible institution?” Assad said, when Walters asked him about allegations of widespread violence and torture. “We don’t kill our people,” said Assad, a 46-year-old, British-trained eye doctor. “No government in the world (kills) its people unless it is led by a crazy person.”

Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevents the work of independent media, making witness reports and accounts from activist groups a key channel of information. Amateur videos posted online have shown police and pro-regime militias opening fire on protesters.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Assad was trying to shirk responsibility. “I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some sort of shell game but also some sort of claim that he doesn’t exercise authority in his own country,” Toner said.

Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, insists extremists pushing a foreign agenda to destabilise Syria are behind the uprising, not true reform-seekers aiming to open the country’s political system.

But activists and members of the opposition balk at those accusations, saying they are demanding legitimate freedom.

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