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Syrian opposition coalition overcomes row, government nears

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 29 Nov 2012 18:05 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

CAIRO, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Syrian opposition leaders overcame a row over membership of their new coalition on Thursday, but obstacles remain to forming a transitional government that could encourage greater Western backing for the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

Aware they could quickly lose credibility with rebels and opposition activists inside Syria, some 60 delegates meeting in Egypt began discussing an internal constitution as a first step toward forming a government according to a Western and Gulf backed plan, delegates said on Thursday.

"We'll discuss today a mechanism for choosing a temporary government. We are talking about a mini-government at first, perhaps with four to five members," said Rima Fleihan, one of a handful of minorities in the coalition, which has around 60 members.

Fleihan said the coalition will make it clear that any government it appoints will reject any deal to negotiate a transitional period in Syria unless Assad steps down, a condition not included in international proposals to solve the crisis that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

"The coalition will have nothing to do with any political process that includes talks with the regime, keeps Assad and his security apparatus and does not hold him and his cohorts accountable for 50,000 Syrians dead," she said.

Fleihan, from Syria's Druze community, had previously resigned from the Syrian National Council (SNC), the first major opposition grouping formed in Istanbul last year that became dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The SNC won scant international support. A Western and Gulf backed effort produced the new coalition earlier this month. Britain, France and Gulf countries have since recognised the coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

The coalition is holding its first full meeting in Cairo ahead of a conference of the Friends of Syria, a grouping of dozens of nations that had pledged mostly non-military backing for the revolt but who are worried by the influence of Islamists in the opposition.

Prominent coalition member Kamal al-Labwani said the coalition must first agree on an internal structure before it could deal with the outside.

He said some members favoured a technocratic government but that he wanted a government composed of political figures that could deal effectively with foreign powers.

"There is a new spirit of cooperation that came about yesterday. We all agree that Bashar and the symbols of the regime must go before any political process could begin. What we need is a work plan," Labwani said.

Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated power in Syria since the 1960s, has painted the opposition as Sunni extremists and al Qaeda followers and presented himself as the last guarantor for an undivided Syria.

Sources at the meeting said that the coalition could eventually raise its members from around 60 to 80 to include more minorities and Sunni figures who were overlooked.

But Michel Kilo, a veteran Christian opposition campaigner and a member of the coalition has not attended the Cairo meeting. The main Kurdish political bloc, the Kurdish National Council, has refused to join.

A dispute broke out when the meeting started on Wednesday as the SNC tried to increase its share in the coalition.

The SNC's share eventually rose to by one to 28 and delegates agreed to form a "membership ratifications committee", meaning that the issue could rear its head again, sources at the meeting said. (Editing by Jon Hemming)

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