Syria's Assad: I won't be forced into exile

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BEIRUT -- The bravado sounded familiar. Like leaders of other countries swept away by Arab Spring uprisings, Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed not to be forced into exile and to die in his homeland.

Assad dug in his heels as world powers move to boost the opposition in the civil war, the latest turn in a nearly 20-month-old crisis so overwhelming that even the Red Cross says it can no longer cope.

"I am not a puppet, I was not made by the West for me to go to the West or any other country," Assad told Russia Today, which posted excerpts yesterday on its website. "I am Syrian, I am made in Syria, and I will live and die in Syria."

The rare interview, in which the 47-year-old president spoke in English with his words translated into Arabic, was posted online two days after British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that Assad could be allowed safe passage out of Syria if that would end the civil war.

The full interview will be broadcast today, the TV station said. It was not clear when or where it took place. Assad was in a gray suit and tie, casually walking and talking with RT's reporter outside a house.

Assad has made only a few public appearances since the revolt began in March 2011. Last month, state TV showed him praying on the floor of a Damascus mosque for the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Adha.

As the two sides battle for the upper hand, civilians are bearing the brunt of the crisis. Peter Maurer, the head of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, said the war has been in a downward spiral for months.

"We can't cope with the worsening of the situation," he said. "The seriousness of the crisis is deepening with every day and this trend has been uninterrupted since summer."

The Red Cross has improved its transportation and logistics, making it easier to bring in truckloads of food and medicine, but it has become overwhelmed by the dire need of hundreds of thousands of people struggling inside Syria, he said.

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The daily death toll in the civil war has been averaging 100 recently, according to activists' accounts.

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