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Britain recognizes Syrian opposition coalition

The British government has announced that it considers a new umbrella opposition coalition as "the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people." The move puts London and Paris in lock step.

Foreign Secretary William Hague announced in parliament on Tuesday that the British government formally recognized Syria's latest opposition coalition as the people's legitimate representatives, simultaneously pledging further financial assistance for the group.

"It is strongly in the interests of Syria, of the wider region and of the United Kingdom that we support them and deny space to extremist groups," Hague told parliament, saying he expected other European governments to take similar steps.

France was the first European country to fully recognize the Syrian opposition as a government-in-waiting last week. The EU announced on Monday that it considered the opposition alliance to be the legitimate representative of the "aspirations" of the Syrian people - in what diplomats described as a compromise wording. US President Barack Obama had previously pledged to support the opposition, without taking the step of recognizing them over President Bashar Assad's government.

The Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, established earlier this month amid international pressure for opposition groups to show a united front, welcomed the official British support.

"This step is very important and I think it will encourage more Syrians to join the coalition and trust it and it will also encourage other European states to recognize it," spokesman Walid al-Bunni said.

Hague told politicians in London that the British government would also donate a further 2 million pounds (2.48 million euros, $3.18 million) to support the opposition.

Lengthy negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha eventually led to the November 11 formation of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, an umbrella body comprising some 14 opposition groups - the largest of which being the National Council.

Government and opposition forces have been locked in a civil war for 20 months. The British-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates the total death toll at more than 39,000.

msh/dr (AFP, Reuters)