Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied ordering a crackdown against anti-government protesters, telling ABC News that most people who died in the unrest were his troops and supporters.
Assad, in a heavily promoted interview with ABC broadcast on Wednesday, said mounting international sanctions on Syria did not worry him and dismissed the United Nations as not a credible institution.
"We don't kill our people … no government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person," Assad told ABC's Barbara Walters.
In the interview, which ABC said was his first one-on-one talk with Western media since the uprising began in March, Assad said he had done his best to protect the people,
"Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa," he said.
He said the dead have included 1100 soldiers and police, ABC said.
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay told the U.N. Human Rights Council last week that more than 4,000 people have been killed in the crackdown and more than 14,000 people are believed to be in detention.
The council voted to condemn Syria for "gross and systematic" violations by its forces, setting the stage for possible action by U.N. political bodies in New York.
But Assad waved away the charges, saying U.N. officials had provided no documentation.
"Who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?" Assad said, saying Syria took part in its deliberations only for form's sake. "It's a game you play. It doesn't mean you believe it."
ABC showed excerpts from the interview on its main morning news show and said there would be more on its evening newscast.
Protests have been ongoing for nine months against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, and the country appears to be edging closer to civil war as armed opposition groups organize and move into some city districts.
Assad conceded that some members of his armed forces went too far, but said they were punished for their actions.
"Every brute reaction was by an individual, not an institution, that's what you have to know," Assad told Walters. "There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials."
"There was no command to kill or be brutal," he said.
Assad repeated he was introducing reforms and elections, but said the changes could not be rushed.
"We never said we are a democratic country … We are moving forward in reforms, especially in the last nine months … It takes a long time, it takes a lot of maturity to be a full fledged democracy," he said.
Assad said he was staying in office because his popularity at home remained high. "When I feel that the public support declined, I won't be here," he said.
He said the mounting international effort to impose sanctions on Syria would have little effect. The United States, European powers and the Arab League have all imposed sanctions on the Assad government but Russia and China have opposed moves to broaden the sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.
"We've been under sanctions for the last 30, 35 years. It's not something new," Assad said. "We're not isolated. You have people coming and going, you have trade, you have everything," he said.
Asked if regretted the violence that has beset his country, Assad said he did his best to "protect the people."
"I cannot feel guilty when you do your best. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost. But you don't feel guilty when you don't kill people. So it's not about guilty," he said.