Assad forces in exercises to repel outside 'aggression'


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The Independent Online

In a show of force, Syria carried out large-scale military exercises yesterday to simulate defending the country against outside "aggression".

The military manoeuvres began on Saturday, with naval forces playing out a scenario in which they repelled an attack from the sea, and will include air and ground forces over the next few days, the state-run SANA news agency said.

The exercise came as Syria's president Bashar al-Assad said that he would not step down "in the face of national challenges".

In a television interview, Assad accused the US of fuelling a violent uprising against his government. German public broadcaster ARD quoted him saying the US was partnering with those "terrorists … with weapons, money or public and political support at the UN".

Meanwhile, the UN special envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus yesterday for talks with the president, a day after admitting that his peace plan had so far failed to end 16 months of bloodshed.