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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 November 2005, 09:10 GMT
Galloway praises Syrian president
George Galloway
Mr Galloway recently visited Syria
George Galloway has defended his praise of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, following a recent trip to the country.

The MP for Bethnal Green said the president was a "breath of fresh air" after decades of dictatorship.

Syria has been criticised for its human rights record and been accused of links to terrorism in recent years - which the country strenuously denies.

Meanwhile, Respect - the party set up by Mr Galloway - is set to begin its annual conference.

Last year the US imposed economic sanctions on Syria over what it deemed to be support for terrorism and a failure to stop militants entering Iraq.

During his recent trip Mr Galloway hailed the Syrian president - whose regime has faced accusations over the assassination of Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri - as the "last Arab leader".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Galloway said: "The Arab world is ruled by dictatorships, almost without exception. Most of them are dictators who are slaves of ours.

"The Syrian regime is independent of us and that is why our government, and more particularly the US government, wants to destroy it."

Mr Galloway noted that the UK has an "extremely close" relationship with nearby Saudi Arabia, which he said was a similar dictatorship.

He suggested that until recently the British government respected the Syrian regime, pointing out that President Assad stayed with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

"People believed that his reforming zeal and his vision of Syria as a genuinely independent Arab country....was one that was widely appreciated across Europe.

Local elections

"I still think that it would have been better if we had not allowed [US President] George Bush to re-write our foreign policy towards Syria, and Iran for that matter."

And, commenting ahead of Respect's conference, he said he wanted the anti-war party to take seats on every council in May's local elections.

"I hope we will elect people in every local authority in the country," he said.

"I'm speaking to the biggest public meetings and more often than any other political figure and our party is doing more public work than any other in the country.

"I think you are going to find next May in the local elections that Respect shakes them [Labour] up all over the country."


SEE ALSO:
Galloway defends 'martyrs' remark
05 Aug 05 |  UK Politics
Has Galloway earned respect?
06 May 05 |  Election 2005
Who's who in the 'axis of evil'
20 Dec 03 |  In Depth


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