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 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 said.
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 particularly strong.
“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.”