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Syria's Assad Vows Not to Bow to Foreign Pressure


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed not to bow to foreign pressure that would hurt Syria, but said he would cooperate with a U.N. inquiry into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Syrian president spoke at Damascus University Thursday.

Syrian President Bashar Assad invoked national strength and solidarity in his speech, voicing his intent to cooperate with the U.N. inquiry, up to a point.

"President Bashar will not be the person who bows his head to anyone in the world, not the head of his nation nor his homeland," he said. "We only bow to God Almighty."

Mr. Assad said Syria is innocent of involvement in the car bombing that killed Rafik Hariri and 22 others. He said no matter how much Syria cooperates with the U.N. probe, Damascus will still be accused of not cooperating.

Mr. Assad called the U.N. inquiry "a game," in which, he said Syria had been unfairly targeted. The country has been under pressure from the United States, which accuses Syria of not monitoring its borders and of supporting Palestinian and Lebanese militants.

Mr. Assad criticized Hariri supporters, accusing them of using the former leader's death for political gain.

"The truth is that those people, or most of them, are blood merchants," he said. "They created a market out of Mr. Hariri's blood, and this market makes money and creates positions."

He did not specifically comment on a request by chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis to question six high-level Syrian officials.

Syria fears sending the officials to Lebanon for questioning, where they could be formally accused and arrested. Syria said Wednesday that the six officials were under a travel ban, and that they were being questioned by a committee handling Syria's own investigation into Mr. Hariri's murder.

Mr. Assad invited Mr. Mehlis to Syria, but he says Mr. Mehlis declined the invitation. In his speech, Mr. Assad pointed to the refusal as proof that the inquiry is a farce.

After Mr. Assad's speech, French President Jacques Chirac said Syria should face international sanctions, if it does not fully cooperate with the investigation.

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