Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied ordering a crackdown against anti-government protesters, telling ABC news that most people who died in the unrest were his troops and supporters.
Assad, in a heavily-promoted interview with ABC on Wednesday, said the mounting international effort to impose sanctions on Syria did not worry him, and that any violence by government forces was the result of individual mistakes, not government policy.
We don't kill our people ... no government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person, ABC quoted Assad as saying.
In the interview with Barbara Walters, which ABC said was his first exclusive one-on-one interview since the uprising in Syria, Assad said, Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa. He said the dead have included 1,100 soldiers and police, ABC said.
ABC released some quotes from the interview on its website and was to release more of the interview throughout the day.
Protests have been ongoing for nine months against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, and the country appears to be edging closer to civil war as armed opposition groups organize and move into some city districts.
Assad conceded that some members of his armed forces went too far, but said they were punished for their actions.
Every 'brute reaction' was by an individual, not an institution, that's what you have to know, Assad told Walters. There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials.
There was no command to kill or be brutal, he said.
Assad repeated that he was introducing reforms and elections, but said the changes could not be rushed.
We never said we are a democratic country...we are moving forward in reforms, especially in the last nine months ... It takes a long time, it takes a lot of maturity to be a full fledged democracy, he said.
He said the mounting international effort to impose sanctions on Syria would have little effect.
We've been under sanctions for the last 30, 35 years. It's not something new, Assad said. We're not isolated. You have people coming and going, you have trade, you have everything, he said.
Asked if regretted the violence that has beset his country, Assad said he did his best to protect the people.
I cannot feel guilty when you do your best. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost. But you don't feel guilty when you don't kill people. So it's not about guilty, he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Vicki Allen)