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Tough to explain war to my children - Assad

SYRIA: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has been locked in a bloody war for nearly three years, told AFP in an exclusive interview he finds it hard to explain the conflict to his children.

Speaking from the plush surroundings of his presidential palace in Damascus, the Syrian leader appeared at ease, smiling as he spoke.

He said he neither lived nor worked in the vast palace, finding it too large, and preferred to be at his office elsewhere in town, or at home.

“There are a few things that haven't changed,” he said, when asked how the brutal conflict has changed his daily life.

“I go to work as usual and we live in the same house as before, and the children go to school. These things haven't changed,” he said in the interview conducted on Sunday.

But he acknowledged that the war had intruded on his family's life in some ways, adding that “children are affected more deeply than adults in these circumstances”.

“There are questions put to you by children about the causes of what's happening, that you don't usually deal with in normal circumstances,” said Assad, a father of three.

“Why are there such evil people? Why are there victims? It's not easy to explain these things to children, but they remain persistent daily questions and a subject of discussion in every family, including my own.” He said the war, which has killed more than 130,000 people according to one NGO's tally, had forced children to “grow up too early and mature much faster”.

And he added that sadness “lives with us every day, all the time, because of what we see and experience, because of the pain, because of the fallen victims everywhere and the destruction of the infrastructure and the economy”.

“This has affected every family in Syria, including my own,” he said.

Assad's wife Asma was raised in London, where her parents still live, and there have been occasional rumours that she has fled Damascus for Britain. Assad said he had never considered leaving the country throughout the conflict.

Meanwhile, President Assad said there is a “significant” chance he will seek a new term this year, and dismissed the prospect of an opposition premier.

Assad said he expected his country's bloody conflict to drag on, calling it a “fight against terrorism” and rejecting any distinction between opposition fighters and radical jihadists.

“I see no reason why I shouldn't stand,” Assad said.

If “there is public desire and a public opinion in favour of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election.” “In short, we can say that the chances for my candidacy are significant,” added Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez in 2000.

He dismissed the opposition, which has said it will go to the Geneva talks with the primary objective of forcing him from office, as having been “created” by foreign backers.

And he described the possibility of appointing key opposition figures to the post of prime minister as nothing more than “a good joke”.

They “come to the border for a 30-minute photo opportunity and then they flee,” he said. “How can they be ministers in the government?” “These propositions are totally unrealistic, but they do make a good joke!”

“What we can say is that we are making progress and moving forward.

"This doesn't mean that victory is near at hand; these kinds of battles are complicated, difficult and they need a lot of time,” he said.

“Should Syria lose this battle, that would mean the spread of chaos throughout the Middle East,” he added.

Assad said peace talks starting Wednesday in the Swiss towns of Montreux and Geneva should focus on his “war on terrorism”, despite the opposition's insistence the talks would lead to his departure from office.

“The Geneva conference should produce clear results with regard to the fight against terrorism in Syria,” he said.

“This is the most important decision or result that the Geneva conference could produce. Any political solution that is reached without fighting terrorism has no value.”

AFP