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Russia backtracks on statement about Assad’s fall

By The Associated Press

This article was published December 14, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.

in-this-photo-released-by-the-syrian-official-news-agency-sana-shows-syrian-president-bashar-assad-as-he-delivers-a-speech-at-the-parliament-in-damascus-syria-sunday-june-3-2012-the-presidents-first-comments-on-the-massacre-expressed-horror-over-the-deaths-of-more-than-100-people-nearly-half-of-them-children-un-investigators-say-there-are-strong-suspicions-that-pro-government-gunmen-carried-out-the-killings-but-assad-denied-that-ap-photosana

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, as he delivers a speech at the parliament in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, June 3, 2012. The president's first comments on the massacre expressed horror over the deaths of more than 100 people, nearly half of them children. U.N. investigators say there are strong suspicions that pro-government gunmen carried out the killings, but Assad denied that. (AP Photo/SANA)

— Russia issued a clumsy denial Friday of a statement from its point man on Syria, who said a day earlier that Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing control of the country. The Foreign Ministry insisted it is not changing its stance on the embattled Syrian regime.

Russia’s explanation — that the official was characterizing the opinion of the Syrian opposition rather than stating Russia’s position — did not jibe with the words of Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who was quoted by all three leading Russian news agencies as saying Thursday: “There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory,” and adding that “an opposition victory can’t be excluded.”

Bogdanov was speaking before the Public Chamber, a Kremlin advisory body. His statement marked the first official acknowledgment from Moscow that Assad’s regime may fall.

On Friday, European Union leaders planned to express strong support for a recently formed coalition of opposition groups, but stop short of calling on member states to offer diplomatic recognition.

Read more on this story in tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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