Assad says departure 'not under discussion': Interfax

AFP , Sunday 19 Jan 2014

File Photo: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with a Russian newspaper in Damascus on August 26, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

A defiant 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 II 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.

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