Moscow: Bashar al-Assad is not ready to
resign and claims to feel strong support despite 11 months of
deadly protests, a top Russian lawmaker who met the Syrian
president in Damascus this week said on Friday.
"I met Assad and did not get the impression that this is
a person who is ready to leave power tomorrow," Alexei
Pushkov, the head of the international affairs committee of
the State Duma lower house, told reporters.
"The protest movement exists, but it is not such that the
president would feel everything crumbling around him -- that
everything is falling apart and he needs to resign," Pushkov
Assad`s ouster "is an absolutely artificial and
far-fetched issue," he said, adding that he talked to the
Syrian strongman for more than an hour.
This week`s four-day visit by Pushkov, a member of the
ruling United Russia party and former television commentator,
came after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov flew to Damascus for
talks with Assad earlier in the month.
Lavrov secured a pledge to halt violence and quickly hold
a constitutional referendum, and idea dismissed by the US
State Department as "quite laughable".
Russia has come under strong condemnation for blocking
together with China a UN Security Council draft resolution
condemning Moscow`s Soviet-era ally for the violence.
It has refused to support calls for Assad to resign and
instead repeatedly called for the start of dialogue that the
opposition says is impossible amid the bloodshed.
Pushkov said Assad`s support in the capital was
"You can sense tensions (in Damascus), but there is no
sense that the city is on the verge of a civil war," he said.
"Unfortunately, there are demonstrations with some
casualties, but the stores are open and everything stays open
until late. ... Everyday life looks normal."