Syria’s Assad losing grip, says Russia’s Medvedev

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RUSSIA has said the chances of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad staying in power are growing “smaller and smaller”, as fighting yesterday in south-western Damascus shut a main highway from the capital.

Mr Assad has long counted Moscow as an ally and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s remarks this weekend were the most vocal Russian statement yet that his days may now be numbered, although they come after predictions from France, an avowed enemy, and from neighbouring Jordan that the Syrian president’s downfall is not imminent.

“I think that with every day, every week and every month, the chances of his preservation are getting smaller and smaller,” Mr Medvedev said, according to the transcript of an interview in Russian with CNN that was released by his office.

“But I repeat again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the United States, nor any other country,” said Mr Medvedev.

“The task for the United States, the Europeans and regional powers … is to sit the parties down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed like Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like Hosni Mubarak.”

Activists said rebels clashed with forces loyal to Mr Assad in south-western Damascus yesterday, seizing a railway station and forcing the closure of the main highway to Deraa in the south.

Footage posted on the internet showed what activists said was a rebel attack on the station in Qadam district. One clip showed gunmen taking cover as gunfire could be heard.

Another video showed smoke billowing above buildings, the result of what activists said was an air strike by Mr Assad’s air force near the railway terminal.