Syrian opposition seeks united front in Istanbul

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ISTANBUL: Leading Syrian opposition figures, encouraged by international support for their cause, met in Istanbul on Saturday to nominate a council that could aid in a transition of power if President Bashar Al-Assad is toppled by an uprising against his rule.

Unlike previous opposition conferences, that were marked by divisions between Islamists and liberals, participants said there was broad agreement on 120 nominees for the council from inside and outside Syria.

The council would speak for dissidents in exile and activists on the ground, opposition figures told Reuters.

"It will be a credible voice for the democratic revolution," said Wael Merza, a Syrian political scientist who played a major role in preparing the list of nominees.

"We need to have a road map for a transition and unity among the opposition," said Merza, who works in the Gulf.

Western governments, who have stepped up sanctions on Assad in reaction to his crackdown on protesters, have privately expressed frustration with the lack of unity among the opposition.

At a meeting with anti-Assad Syrian activists in Washington this month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged them to work toward a "unified vision" for Syria.

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Pressure on Assad increased this week when the United States and European allies called on the 45-year-old president, who inherited power form his father in 2000, to quit.

The United States imposed an oil embargo on Syria on Thursday. Britain said it had yet to decide whether to back proposed European Union sanctions on Syrian oil, a main source of revenue for the ruling family and its allies.

Attendees at the conference included Moulhem Droubi, a high-level member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Muteih Al-Butain, a leader of the street protests in Deraa that helped ignite the uprising against Assad’s across the country, former political prisoner Khaled Al-Haj Saleh, scion of a leftist political family, and writer Hazem Nahar, who was imprisoned during the uprising and managed to leave Syria.

The uprising in Syria has helped resurrect an opposition decimated by 41 years of Assad family rule. It has also stimulated exiled dissidents to bankroll the revolt and to coordinate with local pro-democracy protest organizers on the ground.

The conference also brought two groups composed mostly of Syrian technocrats and professionals, the Islamist leaning National Action Front and the more secular Democratic Coordination Forum. Representatives said the two groups have been meeting to agree on the council, expected to be announced in the next few days.

"The opposition is starting to realize that they cannot be all chiefs and that they have to live up to the expectations of the international community," said Haj Saleh, a veteran opposition figure.

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