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An accidental heir: Syria's Bashar Assad

FILE - This Saturday, April 1, 2010 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meeting with Sen. John Kerry, at al-Shaab Presidential Palace in Damascus, Syria. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous, delusional autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/SANA, File)

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FILE - This Saturday, April 1, 2010 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meeting with Sen. John Kerry, at al-Shaab Presidential Palace in Damascus, Syria. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous, delusional autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/SANA, File)

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  • FILE - In this Monday, July 5, 2010 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad adjusts his earpiece during a joint news conference with Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, unseen, at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Paul White, File)
  • FILE -- This 1994 file photo posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, purports to show then Syrian Captain Bashar Assad, right, during a military project in Syria.  In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook, File)
  • FILE -- This 1994 photo posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, purports to show then Syrian Captain Bashar Assad, looking at documents during a military project in Syria.  In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook, File)
  • FILE -- This 1994 photo posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, purports to show then Syrian Captain Bashar Assad, second right, during a military project in Syria. In the eyes of many Assad is a murderous butcher, a delusional autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. For others, he is a nationalistic hero fighting Western imperialism, a secular stabilizing figure in the midst of a turbulent region racked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook, File)
  • FILE -- This 1994 file photo posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, purports to show then Syrian Captain Bashar Assad, right, during a military project in Syria. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook, File)
  • FILE -- This 1994 photo posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, purports to show then Syrian Captain Bashar Assad, center, during a military project in Syria.  In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook, File)
  • FILE - In this March 2008 file photo, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, left, clasps hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, during the opening session of the Arab Summit in Damascus, Syria. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
  • FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Hezbollah leader sheik Hassan Nasrallah, left, speaks with Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, upon their arrival for a dinner, in Damascus, Syria. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/SANA, File)
  • FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009 file photo, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, left, awarded by Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, with the prestigious Order of Omayyad, the highest national medal in Syria, at al-Shaab Presidential pPalace in Damascus, Syria. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
  • FILE - In this Tuesday, July 13, 2010 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, and his wife Asma Assad, listen to explanations as they visit a technology plant in Tunis. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi, File)
  • FILE - This Saturday, April 1, 2010 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meeting with Sen. John Kerry, at al-Shaab Presidential Palace in Damascus, Syria. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous, delusional autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/SANA, File)
  • FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 17, 2011 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, receives Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, upon his arrival to Damascus airport, Syria. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/SANA, File)
  • FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 13, 2009 file photo, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, second left, escorts Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, following their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. In the eyes of many, Assad is a murderous autocrat who would do anything to cling to power. But for his supporters, he is a nationalist hero fighting Western imperialism, a stabilizing presence who ensures a secular rule in a turbulent region wracked by sectarian wars. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File)

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