Assad's chance to keep power getting smaller: Medvedev

Moscow, Jan 28 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has made a "grave, possibly fatal mistake" and his chances of retaining power are getting "smaller and smaller" every day, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said.

"Assad has made a mistake while carrying out political reforms. He should have done everything much faster, attracting part of the moderate opposition, which was ready to sit at the table with him to his side," Medvedev told CNN.

"This was his grave mistake, and possibly a fatal one," the Russian prime minister said.

"I think that with every day, every week and every month the chances of him retaining power are getting smaller and smaller," Medvedev said.

"But I repeat again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the US, not any other country," he said.

Syria has been locked in a civil war since demonstrations broke out against Assad in March 2011. According to UN estimates, at least 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Russia has faced international criticism over its refusal to back UN sanctions against Syria, over what it calls the pro-rebel bias of some resolutions proposed by Western nations.

Moscow denies it is backing President Assad and says it is concerned that the Syrian president's forced departure would only worsen the conflict.

"I have personally called Assad several times and said: 'Conduct reforms, hold negotiations'. In my view, unfortunately, the Syrian leadership is not ready for this," Medvedev said.

Medvedev also warned against the situation in which the current political elite would be swept away by armed actions, "because then the civil war will last for decades".

He said the task for the international community now was to "sit the parties down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed like (Libyan leader Muammar) Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like (Egypt's) Hosni Mubarak".

--IANS/RIA Novosti

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