3 Mar 2013

Syrian president accuses UK of bullying

7:28 pm on 3 March 2013

Syrian President, Bashar al Assad, has accused the British government of wanting to arm terrorists in his country.

Britain's been pushing to lift a ban on the sale of arms to Syria's rebels, but European Union foreign ministers last month ruled that only "non-lethal" aid could be given to the opposition.

In an interview with the UK's Sunday Times newspaper, Mr Assad said Britain was determined to militarise his country's problems.

Mr Assad accused UK Prime Minister David Cameron's "naive, confused, unrealistic" government of trying to end an EU arms embargo so that the rebels could be supplied with weapons.

He repeated his conditional offer of talks with the opposition and dismissed suggestions that he might step down.

"We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter," he said.

"To be frank, Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in our region on different issues for decades, some say for centuries.

"The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlights this tradition of bullying and hegemony."

He added: "How can we expect to ask Britain to play a role when it is determined to militarise the problem?

The BBC reports that about 70,000 people have been killed in the Syrian uprising that started almost two years ago. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled to neighbouring countries.