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Bold move as Syria leader makes time for chess

Courtesy FIDE

President of the World Chess Federation Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, left, meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a visit to Damascus, Syria on Sunday.

Syria leader Bashar Assad has taken time away from the deadly civil war raging in his country to consider the issue of chess tournaments for school children.

Assad - whose forces have killed more than 9,000 people in the past year, according to the United Nations - held a three-hour meeting on Sunday with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, an eccentric Russian in charge of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), according to a report on Chessbase News.

The pair discussed a project to teach chess in Syrian schools, according to a press release that said an international youth chess tournament could be held in Damascus in early June.

Last week a bomb attack in Damascus killed nine people, part of ongoing bloodshed around Syria.

Ilyumzhinov, a Russian politician who used to the run region of Kalmykia. has previously visited world leaders including former Libya despot Moammar Gadhafi.

He did not rule out the possibility that Assad could take part in the proposed tournament, telling Chessbase: "TheSyrian President plays chess very well – since his studies in London".

He also revealed that Assad wants to invite the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet and a leading figure in world Buddhism, to sanctify an ancient Buddhist temple in Syria.

The Independent newspaper in London reported that Ilyumzhinov told Russia’s Interfax news agency the pair had also discussed the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

 "Assad says he is adhering to the Kofi Annan peace plan,” Interfax quoted Ilyumzhinov as saying. “But the situation is being destabilized by the opposition, who are receiving huge numbers of weapons from neighboring countries."

The Independent also reported that Ilyumzhinov has previously claimed to have been abducted by aliens, and Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein, since killed, was among his friends.

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