Syria Opposition Unites Against Assad

Syria’s opposition elected a National Salvation Council to lead the country against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

ISTANBUL – Gathered under one unified cause, Syria’s fractured opposition elected a National Salvation Council to lead the country against the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad, Reuters reported on Sunday, July 17.

“We shall work toward reaching out toward other opposition groups to lead the country toward the democratic vision we have,” prominent opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh told Reuters after the one-day meeting.

Overcoming differences, Syrian opposition Islamists, liberals and independents, mostly in exile for years, gathered yesterday in Istanbul amid hopes of creating a unified front against the oppression of ruling Assad.

Despite disputes over whether to form a government-in-waiting or wait to see how the uprising unfolds, the meeting concluded with the election of a 25-member National Salvation council composed of different opposition groups.

Of the close to 350 people who attended the opposition congress, many were Syrian exiles who had left the country years earlier.

Organizers were planning to join members of the opposition inside Syria via a video link to a conference in Damascus.

Yet, a sudden security crackdown on the venue called off these plans.

The Council will meet Sunday to appoint an 11-member committee, and a further meeting with be held in a bid to tighten bonds between the various opposition groups.

Syrian opposition groups have held two other meetings in Turkey since anti-regime demonstrations began in March, as thousands of Syrians fled to Turkey to escape bloodshed.

Ankara, whose ties with Damascus have flourished in recent years, has piled up pressure on Assad to initiate reform but has stopped short of calling for his departure.

But Turkey’s frustration with his foot-dragging on reform has grown.

Last month, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Damascus of perpetrating an “atrocity” against demonstrators, the harshest remark yet in Ankara’s criticism of the security crackdowns, which activists say, have claimed the lives of more than 1,400 civilians.

Troubling repression

Heaping fresh criticism against Assad rule, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a visit to Turkey, said Assad’s repression was “troubling.”

“The brutality has to stop,” she said in a televised interview with a group of young Turkish people at an Istanbul coffee shop Saturday cited by Reuters.

At a later news conference with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Clinton called on opposition to organize under one agenda to step up their moves towards political reform.

“Now Syria’s future is up to the Syrian people, but of course the efforts by the opposition to come together to organize and to articulate an agenda are an important part of political reform,” she said.

She expressed hope the people and Assad’s government could be reconciled to work together.

“It’s what the Syrian people are doing, trying to form an opposition that can provide a pathway hopefully in peaceful cooperation with government to a better future,” Clinton added.

Davutoglu repeated warnings to Assad’s government to implement reform or face being swept away by democratic forces.

“A government that does not consider the demands of its society won’t survive,” said Davutoglu, who had earlier urged Assad to undertake “shock therapy” reforms.

“Assad said he was going to have multi -party groups in parliament … I hope Syria has opposition parties and that Syria has opposition parties that raise their voice,” he said.

Istanbul Saturday’s meeting came one day after the biggest demonstrations so far in Syria’s four-month uprising, during which at least 32 civilians were killed, including 23 in the capital Damascus.

( / 17.07.2011)

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