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UN chief criticized Syria's president

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February 7, 2013 08:04 PM EST | AP

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is strongly criticizing Syria's President Bashar Assad for using terrorists as a justification to kill civilians and shell villages.

The U.N. chief told a group of journalists Thursday that the Syrian crisis didn't start because of terrorism – but he said because Assad continued to kill his own people, terrorist elements are now taking advantage of the turmoil.

"He could have stopped this violence a long time ago and this political dialogue could have commenced a long time ago," Ban said. "But he has been continuously killing ... That's why people, out of frustration, out of anger, they have been fighting against their own government."

The secretary-general strongly welcomed opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib's proposal for political talks and expressed hope that Syrian authorities would accept it.