Assad vows not to 'quit under pressure'

DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said in an interview for Russian TV he will not quit under foreign pressure, saying the Syrian people must decide.

Western powers and much of the Syrian opposition say it is not conceivable for Mr Assad to lead a post-war Syria.

Mr Assad said Iran was supporting his government "politically, economically and militarily" but denied that Iranian ground forces had been sent.

The latest comments come as Russia increases its presence in Syria.

Mr Assad said that the president "comes to power with the people's assent through elections, and if he leaves, he leaves if the people demand it".

Mr Assad was re-elected in 2014 with 88.7% of the vote. However, the election only took place in government-held areas and the opposition said the vote had no credibility in the midst of a civil war.

In the interview Mr Assad also said the refugee crisis which has seen more than four million Syrians flee the country, and millions more internally displaced, was due to "terrorism".

He urged Western countries to "stop supporting terrorists" if they are concerned about an influx of refugees.

Mr Assad's message is not new, says the BBC's Sebastian Usher. From the first days of the Syrian crisis, when he was facing unarmed opposition from street protests, he has framed it as a battle against terrorism,

What has changed is the timing and the circumstances. Mr Assad and one of his main backers, Russia, are pointing to the refugee crisis and the rise of Islamic State (IS) as proof that their stance has been correct, our correspondent adds.

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