'Assad has been ruling Syria for too long'

A United Nations envoy says 40 years of Assad family rule is "too long".

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - Syrians believe that 40 years of Assad family rule is too long, the international mediator for Syria said, the closest he has come to calling directly for President Bashar al-Assad to leave power.

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi appears to have been pushed to take a firmer stance by a speech Assad delivered on Sunday.

The speech was billed as a new peace proposal but offered no concessions and included a vow never to talk to foes he branded terrorists and Western puppets.

Assad's speech was firmly rejected by Western countries and the opposition, which described it as an attempt to cling to power and thwart mediation efforts.

"In Syria, in particular, I think that what people are saying is that a family ruling for 40 years is a little bit too long," Brahimi told Britain's BBC in an interview aired on Wednesday.

"So the change has to be real.

"It has to be real, and I think that President Assad could take the lead in responding to the aspiration of his people rather than resisting it."

Brahimi's remarks cast doubt about the future of his peace plan, the only major diplomatic initiative to end a war the United Nations says has killed 60,000 people.

Assad has ruled since 2000, taking over from his father Hafez who seized power in a 1970 coup.

The uprising against him is backed mainly by the Sunni Muslim minority, while he is supported mainly by other members of his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, and other religious minorities.

In the past, Brahimi has been careful not to take a firm position on Assad's future role, a stance that often angered the rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian leader.

Brahimi met Assad in Damascus two weeks ago and has been convening senior U.S. and Russian officials in an effort to narrow differences between the superpowers backing either side in the war.

The next round of those talks are due next week.