Former Syrian vice president relies on government-in-exile

A former Syrian vice president said he is forming a government in exile and forecast in remarks released Saturday that the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad will collapse by the end of the year. Abdul-Halim Khaddam, who lives in Paris, also renewed his charge that Assad must have ordered the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Asked in an interview with the Spiegel news magazine if he was forming a government in exile, Khaddam said: "That is correct." He said he was willing to cooperate with all political forces in Syria, from Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood to disenchanted members of the ruling Baath Party. Assad, he said, was losing support within Syria.

"His fall has begun. I don't believe that his regime will survive this year. The internal pressure and the international pressure through the Hariri investigation are growing with each week," Khaddam said in the interview, which was released ahead of its publication Monday.

Khaddam also repeated remarks made on French radio last week about who ordered the massive truck bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others in Beirut last February. "I am convinced: The order came from Assad. He is a highly impulsive man; his nerves regularly fail him," Khaddam was quoted as saying.

Syria has denied accusations of involvement in the killing and has accused Khaddam of high treason. The government in Damascus has seized his assets. Khaddam was for many years Syria's top official in Lebanon and was a member of the Baath Party's regional command, its most influential body, for almost 30 years.

He represents an old guard long seen as wary of Assad, who became president after the death of his father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, in 2000. Khaddam resigned in June, left Syria several months ago, and is holed up in a luxury residence in Paris, guarded by armed French police officers.

Khaddam, who met earlier this month with members of the U.N. commission investigating Hariri's death, said only the head of state could have ordered Syrian security forces to carry out such a demanding assassination operation. He didn't provide any proof in either interview to back up his claims, reports the AP. N.U.