Assad ‘not in charge of brutal crackdown’

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Syria’s president has denied he ordered the deadly crackdown against anti-government protesters, claiming he was not in charge of the troops.

Bashar Assad maintained he did not give a command “to kill or be brutal.”

“They’re not my forces,” Mr Assad responded when asked if Syrian troops had cracked down too hard on protesters.

“They are military forces (who) belong to the government. I don’t own them. I’m president. I don’t own the country,” he told American broadcaster ABC.

In fact, in his role as president, Mr Assad is the commander of Syria’s armed forces.

The United Nations estimates more than 4,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March.

“Who said the United Nations is a credible institution?” Mr Assad said, when asked about allegations of widespread violence and torture.

Mr Assad responded to protests with once-unthinkable promises of reform in one of the most authoritarian states in the Middle East but he simultaneously unleashed the armed forces to crush the protests with tanks and snipers.

Dozens of bodies were dumped in the streets of a Syrian city at the heart of the nine-month-old uprising, a grim sign that sectarian bloodshed is escalating.

The discovery in the streets of Homs on Monday came as the United States stepped up pressure on the regime to end its crackdown on the anti-government protests.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Geneva with Syrian opposition figures and Washington said it was sending its ambassador back to the country’s capital, Damascus.

Up to 50 people were killed in Homs on Monday amid a welter of kidnappings but details about what happened in Syria’s third-largest city only came to light with reports of retaliatory attacks pitting members of the Alawite sect against Sunnis.

Thirty-four of the dead were shot execution-style and their bodies dumped in a public square, it was claimed.