Syrian opposition groups in Turkey for unity talks
Published Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Syria's fractious opposition, the Syrian National Council, began talks in Istanbul on Tuesday aimed at reconciling differences that have prevented them being an effective alternative to President Bashar Assad.
The Western-backed SNC are holding talks to prepare for the "Friends of Syria" conference in Istanbul on Sunday.
The SNC's rival factions were invited by Turkey and Qatar, which holds the rotating chair of the Arab League, to talks in Istanbul to try to form a common front.
About 300 dissidents attended the welcome dinner at a seaside hotel in Pendik, a distant suburb on the Asian side of Istanbul, and more were expected to join what the Turkish hosts called an "open house" meeting on Tuesday.
SNC President Burhan Ghalioun has sought support for the meeting to end with a "national oath," committing all the opposition to building a democratic state, without any agenda for revenge, and to seek reconciliation once Assad is removed.
"Based on the national responsibility on all the political powers in the Syrian revolution and the efforts to unite the opposition and its vision, we declare the basic principles that the new state will be based upon," a draft declaration said.
It said the new Syria will be "civic, democratic and totally free," with a transitional government to organize a ballot to elect a founding assembly to draft a new constitution.
There are likely to be fierce debates on the wording of the oath and on the strategy to overthrow Assad, as well as on calls for reform of the SNC, delegates said.
The SNC, which is backed strongly by Gulf monarchies including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has come under criticism for its policy of calling for foreign intervention in Syria and for its lack of support inside the country.
Some delegates feel that while the SNC has more than 300 members, only a handful take decisions.
A few weeks ago, several leading dissidents withdrew from the group, dismayed by its leadership and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The executive council will have to do something to show it is listening to people," said a diplomat observing the meeting. "There is a feeling it is not transparent or democratic enough."
Ghalioun, a Paris-based professor of politics, was chosen in October as a consensus candidate to hold the presidency for an initial three months, but he has held onto the position despite strong criticism of his leadership.
His attempt in December to draft an accord between the SNC, made up mainly of exiled dissidents, and the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change, an opposition bloc inside Syria, was rejected by the SNC executive council.
Liberals and other Islamists are unhappy with the influence that the Muslim Brotherhood wields in the SNC, while ethnic Kurdish leaders have shunned the group.
The SNC also angered armed rebels when it sought to create its own military bureau, drawing stern criticism from Free Syrian Army head Colonel Riyadh Asaad.
Recent serious cracks in the opposition comes as regime forces consolidate its hold in the country, and advance on remaining pockets of dissent.
Turkey hosts a "Friends of Syria" meeting of mostly Western and Arab foreign ministers on April 1 to explore options to take against the Assad regime.
Whether they are in the SNC or not, main opposition figures will also attend, a Turkish official told reporters on Monday.
(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)