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President Assad lashes out at Western criticism

| Friday, Nov. 11, 2005

DAMASCUS -- A defiant President Bashar Assad said Thursday his government would cooperate with a U.N. investigation that implicated Syrian officials in the killing of a Lebanese leader, but he warned he would no longer "play their game" if Syria "is going to be harmed."

Hours later, President Jacques Chirac of France, a key member of the U.N. Security Council, warned of sanctions against Syria if Assad "persists in not wanting to listen or understand."

"It is not conceivable, admissible, acceptable for the international community ... that Syria refuses to cooperate," Chirac said in Paris.

In his hard-line speech at Damascus University, Assad also said the chief U.N. investigator into the killing of Rafik Hariri, Detlev Mehlis, had rejected Syria's terms for interviewing six Syrian officials. He gave no hint of how the matter would be resolved, but the Security Council has warned Syria it must cooperate fully with the investigator, who has the right to determine the place and conditions of such interviews.

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