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Before the uprising, such a declaration would have been unthinkable in a country with harsh restrictions who is allowed to run. Assad himself inherited power from his father in 2000 after an election in which he was the only candidate.

The regime has come under increasing international pressure to end its crackdown.

Germany said several European countries were summoning Syrian ambassadors and threatening new sanctions targeting the country’s leadership if it doesn’t halt the repression of protesters.

The European Union already has decided to impose sanctions on 13 Syrian officials, prohibiting them from traveling anywhere in the 27-nation bloc. But the first round of sanctions doesn’t target Assad himself.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said European officials will make clear that “a second package that also includes the Syrian leadership” will follow if Syria does not immediately change course.

Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.