Wednesday 7 December 2016

First Syrian in space urges Europe to help oust Assad

Published 09/03/2016 | 15:06

Mohammed Faris was Syria's first cosmonaut (AP)
Mohammed Faris was Syria's first cosmonaut (AP)

Syria's first man in space has said European nations should help remove President Bashar Assad from office to bring an end to the refugee crisis.

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Mohammed Faris, a 64-year-old Soviet-trained cosmonaut, fled the civil war in Syria in 2012 for Turkey to join the Syrian opposition, becoming one of his country's highest-ranking defectors.

Mr Faris, a refugee himself, told the Associated Press: "I tell Europe if you don't want refugees, then you should help us get rid of this regime."

Mr Faris made history in 1987 when he became Syria's first cosmonaut - and a national hero - spending almost eight days in space.

Now based in Istanbul, he gives talks at universities and schools on his experiences in space.

The retired general was also critical of Russia's intervention in Syria.

Mr Faris said he feels admiration for the Russian people, but is critical of Moscow's campaign in Syria.

"I am very sorry about the Russian interference, which has stood on the side of dictator Bashar Assad, and has begun to kill the Syrian people with their planes," he said.

He insisted peace in Syria can not be achieved unless Assad leaves.

"We in Syria sacrificed more than a million people and 1.9 million injured," Mr Faris said. "Can we let this be for nothing?"

During the height of the Cold War, Mr Faris was selected for a space programme and moved to the former Soviet Union in 1985 for training with other cosmonauts.

Two years later, he would travel to the Mir space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

"I saw the Earth from outer space. The Earth is like one ball, it has no borders," Mr Faris said. "And that's wonderful, because in outer space, there are no gates between countries. From there, the Earth is one home, one family."

Press Association

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