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Liberals boycott Syrian opposition coalition to protest PM choice

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 20 Mar 2013 15:32 GMT
Author: Reuters
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AMMAN, March 20 (Reuters) - Nine people suspended their membership in the Syrian National Coalition, the main political grouping opposing President Bashar al-Assad, on Wednesday one day after it named an Islamist-backed candidate as provisional prime minister.

The coalition was formed with Western and Gulf backing in Qatar last year to bring together Assad's disparate political foes and build an alternative government structure to replace his rule. But after a brief period of harmony, divisions have racked the group.

Its liberal minority accused the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, who include a handful of Christians, of assuming control of the coalition.

After a meeting in Istanbul, the coalition on Tuesday chose Western-educated exile Ghassan Hitto, who is little known in Syria, as provisional prime minister.

Hitto was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition coalition Secretary General Mustafa Sabbagh, who has strong links with Gulf Arab states, according to sources at the meeting.

"The Muslim Brotherhood, with the backing of Qatar, have imposed their prime minister candidate. We will keep away if the coalition does not reconsider its choice," veteran opposition campaigner Walid al-Bunni, a senior figure in the group of nine, told Reuters.

It also includes coalition vice president Suhair al-Atassi, and opposition campaigner Rima Fuleihan, two of the three women in the 62-member, Islamist-dominated coalition.

Tension also built up between the Brotherhood and coalition President Moaz Alkhatib, a moderate Islamist cleric who made an offer to Assad for a negotiated exit, after the Brotherhood and its allies pushed to form a provisional government that could undermine Alkhatib, according to coalition insiders.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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