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Westerners say Assad is better option

Western diplomats are increasingly saying that President Bashar al Assad keeping power is a better option for Syria than his overthrow by Islamist ­militants, Russia's foreign minister was quoted as saying yesterday.

"Not only in private ­meetings but also in public comments, the idea is ­occurring to some Western colleagues that ... Assad remaining in office is less of a threat for Syria than a ­takeover of the country by terrorists," Sergei Lavrov told RIA news agency.

Russia has been Assad's most important supporter during Syria's civil war, blocking Western-backed efforts to condemn Mr Assad at the UN Security Council or to push him out of power.

Moscow says it is not trying to prop up Mr Assad but that his departure cannot be a precondition for peace moves.

Mr Lavrov said the gains made by Islamist rebels on the Syrian battlefield were pushing a shift in the Western stance on Mr Assad.

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