Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has declared that only a "crazy" leader kills citizens of his own country and those who have died since the start of the protests were supporters, rather than opponents, of his regime.
Around 4,000 people have died since the start of the protests and Syria faces the threat of sanctions from the Arab League and punitive measures from the wider international community. But Assad insisted yesterday his loyal followers were the real victims.
"We don't kill our people," he said in an interview on ABC. "No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person. Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa... There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and having some mistakes committed by some officials." Asked whether he regretted the strife which has engulfed Syria, he said he had done his best to "protect the people".
US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman dismissed the Syrian leader's claims, stating: "Assad and his clique should stop the killing, stop the torture, stop the jailing. We want to use all of the tools that are available to the international community to change what is happening in Syria by peaceful means."
But a senior western European diplomat warned yesterday that the absence of senior government defection so far meant Western countries pushing for change "could be in it for the long haul".