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Middle East

Abandon Assad urges ex-Syrian PM Riad Hijab


Syria's former prime minister has appealed for other senior officials to abandon president Bashar Assad in his first public comments since defecting.

Riad Hijab spoke after leaving his post and fleeing to Jordan with his family last week. He is the highest-ranking political figure to defect from Assad's regime.

He said that he decided he could no longer support Assad because the Syrian president has no ability to halt the fighting.

Activists say more than 20,000 have been killed in battles between rebels and government forces since March 2011.

He said he felt "pain in his soul" over the regime's shelling and other attacks on rebel strongholds as the government stepped up its military offensive.

"I was powerless to stop the injustice," he said, speaking in front of the rebel flag.

He called on "honourable leaders" in Syria to defect.

"Syria is full of honourable officials and military leaders who are waiting for the chance to join the revolution," he said.

"I urge the army to follow the example of Egypt's and Tunisia's armies - take the side of people," he added.

Mr Hijab said he was now backing the rebels, but gave no clue on his plans. There had been speculation that he would travel to the Gulf nation of Qatar, which is one of the rebels' main supporters.