UK & World News

  • 19 January 2014, 17:27

Syria's Assad 'Not Ready To Give Up Power'

Syrian President Bashar al Assad has reportedly said he is not ready to give up power and the issue is not up for discussion.

According to Russia's Interfax news agency, Mr Assad said: "If we wanted to surrender, we would have surrendered from the start (of the nation's civil war)."

He reportedly added: "We are on guard for our country. This issue is not up for discussion."

The president apparently made the comments to Russian MPs ahead of an internationally backed peace conference on Syria.

The main opposition group has voted in favour of attending the talks next week aimed at ending the conflict.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) confirmed it will participate in the discussions after 58 of its 73 delegates voted in favour of attending.

Western and Arab sponsors of the opposition group have pressured the SNC to attend the talks, which are due to begin on Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux.

The Syrian government had already committed to attending the talks, which are backed by the United Nations.

Sky correspondent Robert Nisbet in Damascus says security has been increased in the capital ahead of the conference.

He said: "There are roadblocks everywhere around the city. Our local producer says he has never seen security as tight as it is today.

"It would suggest the Assad government is nervous that perhaps an armed opposition group may want to stage some kind of event in the capital to show that the president hasn't regained control of the biggest city in Syria."

The conference will be the first face-to-face meeting between representatives of Mr Assad's government and the opposition since war broke out in March 2011.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since the conflict began and millions have been displaced.

The US and Russia have been trying to hold the peace conference since last year, and it has been repeatedly delayed.

Both sides finally agreed to sit together at the negotiation table after dropping some of their conditions.

The aim of the conference, which has been dubbed Geneva 2, is to agree on a roadmap for Syria's future based on one adopted by the US, Russia and other major powers in June 2012.

The plan includes the creation of a transitional government and eventual elections.

:: Watch the latest updates live on Sky News on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.

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