Assad says Syria to hold parliamentary elections in February

Assad says Syria to hold parliamentary elections in February

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned Sunday of the consequences of any military action against his country, dismissing calls for him to step down as "worthless", dpa reported.

"The consequences of any military action against Syria will be unbearable," al-Assad said in an interview with state television broadcast Sunday night.

He said that the countries threatening Syria with military action and sanctions were "themselves in political, military, economic ... dilemmas."

Earlier Sunday, the United Nations confirmed the arrival in Syria of a humanitarian team to assess the crisis.

At least 1,890 civilians and 425 security personnel have been killed in the past four months, according to human rights advocates. It is difficult to verify these reports, as authorities have barred most foreign media and international observers from the country.

Addressing Western governments, al-Assad said: "We refrained from commenting on your calls (to step aside) because your words were worthless. Your words do not concern a president who was not appointed by the United States. He came to power by the choice of the Syrian people."

The 40-minute interview was his first on state television since becoming president in 2000.

The problem between Syria and the West is over "sovereignty," and the "imperialist countries" in the West do not want to see reforms in Syria, al-Assad said. "They want us to abandon our rights," he said. "This is a dream that will not come true either under the current circumstances or under any other circumstances."

Facing unprecedented protests for more than five months, al-Assad admitted that the Syrian economy has felt the pinch of the unrest.

"However, the economy has started to recover over the past two months, as Syria continues to switch to the East" for economic cooperation, he said.

He played down continued pro-democracy protests against his government, saying Syria emerged stronger from the crisis. Al-Assad said the security situation in Syria is now better.

Two laws on political pluralism and elections in Syria would take effect next week, he said: "The parliamentary elections can be held next February."

A committee would be set up next month to revise the constitution, al-Assad said: "We will continue to issue reform laws."

The interview was his first public appearance since June 20 and his fourth since demonstrations against his government erupted in mid-March.

Lebanese broadcasters on Sunday quoted UN spokeswoman Amanda Pitt as saying that "a UN humanitarian team is in place in Syria now." The team is led by Rashid Khalikov, chief of the Geneva bureau of the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, she said.

New-York based non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch called on the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take action against Syria, saying it had violated its charter "by systematically and brutally suppressing peaceful civilian protests."

"The OIC should issue a clear statement that security forces conducting policing may use lethal force only when strictly necessary to protect life, and that killing peaceful protesters is a serious violation of the OIC charter," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's Middle East director.

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