DAMASCUS: The Syrian government said Thursday that nobody can prevent the country's embattled President Bashar al-Assad from running for re-election next year.
"Nobody has the right to interfere and say he must run or he should not run," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad told AFP, shortly after Russia criticized statements that he wanted to seek another term.
"President Assad in my opinion should be a candidate but he will decide when the time comes for him to decide," he said.
"I shall ask the opposition: why a Syrian national does not have the right to be a candidate? Who can prevent him? Any Syrian national can be candidate," said Muqdad.
"The ballot boxes will decide who will lead Syria... President Assad enjoys a big majority while (France's) President (Francois) Hollande has only 15 percent support of the French people," he argued.
Russia earlier on Thursday issued a rare criticism of its ally Assad over the 2014 presidential election.
"Exchanging such rhetorical statements just makes the atmosphere heavier and does not make the situation calmer," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Russia's Interfax news agency.
Bogdanov said Assad and all parties should steer clear of stoking tensions ahead of peace talks planned to take place in Switzerland in January aimed at ending the conflict raging in Syria since 2011.
"We believe that ahead of the peace talks there should be no statements which someone may not like and can cause emotions and a reaction in response," he added.
While the opposition insists on Assad's ouster, three years into an armed conflict that has cost more than 125,000 lives, the Syrian regime has repeatedly said he would run in 2014 polls.
Assad himself said in a television interview in October: "I don't see any reason why I shouldn't run in the next election."