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Russia: Assad's days numbered

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 8:28 p.m.
REUTERS
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad attends prayers during celebrations of Prophet Mohammed's Birthday, at the al-Afram mosque in Damascus January 24, 2013, in this handout picture provided by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/SANA/Handout (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION ANNIVERSARY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

MOSCOW — Russia said the chances of Syrian President Bashar Assad staying in power were growing “smaller and smaller,” as fighting on Sunday in southwestern Damascus shut a main highway from the capital.

Assad has long counted Moscow as an ally and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's remarks were the most vocal Russian statement yet that his grip is slipping. France, and neighboring Jordan last week predicted that the Syrian president's downfall is not imminent.

“I think that with every day, every week and every month, the chances of his preservation are getting smaller and smaller,” Medvedev told CNN.

“But I repeat again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the United States, nor any other country,” said Medvedev, whose administration has criticized Western, Turkish and Gulf Arab support for rebels.

“The task for the United States, the Europeans and regional powers ... is to sit the parties down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed like Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like Hosni Mubarak.”

Moscow has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing Assad out or pressuring him to end the bloodshed, which has killed more than 60,000 people.

France said on Thursday there was no sign Assad was about to be overthrown, reversing previous statements that he could not hold out long, and Jordan's King Abdullah said Assad would consolidate his grip.

“Anybody who is saying the regime of Bashar has got weeks to live really doesn't know the reality on the ground,” Abdullah said in Davos on Friday. “They still have capability, so I give them a strong shot at least for the first half of 2013.”

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