DAMASCUS, Syria, July 5 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad in an interview published Thursday said protests in his country fall short of other protests in the Arab Spring.
"They wanted to bring people out into the streets in large numbers just like in Egypt and Tunisia," Assad told the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet. "However they were not successful."
Assad also claimed protesters were paid the equivalent of $10 to $100 to participate in the demonstrations, which started out peaceful. The tone changed because opponents "wanted to form liberated areas by arming certain regions, like the Benghazi [Libya] model," CNN reported
Assad said his army prevented the forming of such areas, but, "Now they are at a new stage: Assassinations, bombing state institutions, massacres targeting civilians and kidnappings have begun."
The embattled president said his opponents wanted "to divide Syria or to create internal war," adding "the struggle against terrorism will continue," CNN reported.
Besides his domestic opponents, Assad cited what he called the Turkish government's "animosity."
Syria shot down an unarmed Turkish military jet last month. Assad said his military mistakenly thought the warplane was Israeli.
One of the opposition groups, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said this week more than 16,700 have been killed in nearly 16 months of protest, more than 11,000 of them civilians, CNN reported.
CNN said it could not independently confirm the deaths.