MONTREUX, Switzerland — Peace talks intended to carve a path out of Syria's civil war got off to a rocky start Wednesday as a bitter clash over President Bashar Assad's future threatened to collapse the negotiations even before they really begin.
The dispute over Assad cast a pall over an international peace conference that aims to map out a transitional government and ultimately a democratic election for the war-torn Middle East nation.
While diplomats sparred against a pristine Alpine backdrop, Syrian forces and opposition fighters clashed across a wide area from Aleppo and Idlib in the north to Daraa in the south, where the uprising against Assad began three years ago, activists and state media said.
In Switzerland, the U.S. and the Syrian opposition opened the conference by saying the Syrian leader lost his legitimacy when he crushed a once-peaceful protest movement.
In a strong riposte, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem countered that terrorists and foreign meddling had ripped his country apart. He refused to give up the podium despite requests from the U.N. chief.
"You live in New York. I live in Syria," he angrily told U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. "I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum. After three years of suffering, this is my right."
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