Middle East

Damascus defiant on Assad re-election

A member of Mujahidin, who fight with Syrian rebels groups against the Syrian government forces, poses for a picture standing next to a missile at an unknown place in Syria, Dec. 2, 2013. (AP Photo)

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government said Thursday that nobody can prevent the country’s embattled President Bashar Assad from running for re-election next year, hours after Russia issued a rebuke of its ally over the issue.

“Nobody has the right to interfere and say he must run or he should not run,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told AFP. “President Assad in my opinion should be a candidate but he will decide when the time comes for him to decide.”

“I shall ask the opposition: Why doesn’t a Syrian national have the right to be a candidate? Who can prevent him? Any Syrian national can be a candidate,” Mekdad said.

“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 said that Assad’s declared intention to run for another term could hurt the prospects for the long-delayed Geneva II peace conference, scheduled for Jan. 22.

“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.

“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 the president’s ouster, three years into an armed conflict that has cost more than 125,000 lives, the Syrian regime has repeatedly said that he would run in the 2014 polls.

Assad himself said in a TV interview in October: “I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t run in the next election.”

The preparations for Geneva were also complicated by demands by Syrian Kurds, who want their own delegation, separate from both the government and opposition, Kurdish political leaders said.

The Kurds say they need independent representation because their demands in negotiations over Syria’s future are distinct from those of the government or the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

“The coalition are no different from Assad’s Baath Party rule when it comes to their position on the Kurds. They do not recognize the rights of Kurds to live on their land with recognition of their basic rights, including the right to administer their own region,” said Abdel-Salam Ahmad, a leading figure in the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Syrian Kurdish officials meeting in the Iraqi city of Irbil said they would seek approval to send a separate delegation from the United Nations and the United States and Russia.

“We have agreed to a shared delegation made up of the main Kurdish parties. We won’t finalize the details until we can talk to foreign powers and the United Nations to see if they will accept,” said Abdel-Hamid Darwish, head of the Democratic Progressive Party.

“Russia is willing to accept a third bloc for the Kurds but it is other powers, particularly America, which insist on a two-party negotiation,” the PYD’s Ahmad said.

“If they insist on a single umbrella opposition group, we will go with the opposition as part of a unified Kurdish legal council within it, but we strongly believe in the principle that the Kurds deserve their own representation.”

Separately, the lead of the jihadist Nusra Front group issued a blanket rejection of Geneva II.

In an Al-Jazeera television interview, Abu Mohammad Golani said “we will not recognize any results that come out of the Geneva II conference.

In an apparent reference to the opposition National Coalition, he said “those taking part in the conference do not represent the people who sacrificed. Besides, who has authorized them to represent the people?”Golani also said the battle against the Assad regime was almost over, claiming that the rebels “will achieve victory soon.”

Nusra, formed in January 2012, joined Al-Qaeda last December on a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. It and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria are the most powerful jihadist groups fighting against Assad.

The developments came after Russia blocked a Security Council resolution that would have blamed the regime for airstrikes in the city of Aleppo, which have killed nearly 200 people in the last five days, according to several estimates.

Late Wednesday, the U.N. General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution expressing outrage at “widespread and systematic gross violations” by Syrian authorities.

The resolution, initiated by Saudi Arabia on behalf of dozens of states including the U.S., also expressed “grave concern at the spread of extremism and extremist groups” in Syria.

It was approved 127 to 13, with 47 countries abstaining.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 20, 2013, on page 1.




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