MOSCOW – In his first interview in nearly half a year, Syrian President Bashar Assad denounced the opposition Syrian National Council as both ineffective and working against their own people's interests.
Assad also said in the interview broadcast Wednesday that his country has captured foreign mercenaries who were fighting for the opposition and is ready to show them to the world. In addition, he complained that Western countries protest the violence by his regime's forces but not by the opposition fighters.
Assad said the Syrian National Council's call to boycott parliamentary elections this year discredited the group.
"To call for boycotting the elections, that's the equivalent of calling for a boycott of the people," Assad said in the interview, which was broadcast on Russian state news channel Rossiya-24. "And how can you boycott the people of whom you consider yourself the representative?
"So I don't think that they have any kind of weight or significance within Syria," Assad said in remarks translated into Russian.
Assad said religious extremists and al-Qaida members from abroad are among the forces fighting his government.
"There are foreign mercenaries, some of them still alive. They are being detained and we are preparing to show them to the world," he said.
The Assad regime's crackdown on a 14-month-long popular uprising has left thousands dead and prompted international condemnation.
Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, has said that deadly bombings last week in Damascus were evidence of "terrorist activities" by "groups and organizations affiliated with al-Qaida." He also claimed Syria has a list of "12 foreign terrorists" killed in Syria, including one French citizen, one British citizen and one Belgian citizen, and he offered the list to the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council.
Kofi Annan, the U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria, is expected to visit Syria this month, Assad said. He added that he intends to complain to Annan about one-sided criticism of Syria.
The West "talks about violence, but violence from the side of the government, not a word about terrorists. We are waiting for this, as we have before. Mr. Annan will come to Syria this month, and I will ask him about this matter," the Syrian leader said.