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Two sides to meet in same room on Syria

United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has announced that a Syrian government delegation and the Western-backed opposition will meet on Saturday in the same room.

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Direct talks for Syria agreed

The announcement early Friday evening came after three days of discussions between representatives from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and, separately, the Syrian opposition, which have not come face to face for talks in three years of fighting.

Brahimi met with the two sides earlier in the day, hoping to broker peace in the civil war that has left 130,000 people dead.

"We are going to meet tomorrow. I hope that it will be a good beginning, and that we will continue until the end of next week," he said.

"The discussions I had with the two parties were encouraging," he said, adding that negotiations would be based on a June 2012 statement by world powers which called for the two sides to agree on the establishment of a transitional body.

The announcement from Brahimi came after Syria's government threatened to leave Switzerland if serious talks did not begin by Saturday. The opposition, which agreed to the peace talks only under intense diplomatic pressure, had been reluctant to sit face-to-face with the government unless it agreed to yield power.

Protesters in several Syrian towns demonstrated against the talks, saying that President Bashar al-Assad had shown with years of military strikes against his people that he favors violence.

"We are bombed and nobody cares," sang one demonstrator in the town of Sabqa. "The Assad regime doesn't understand the language of dialogue. We will remove this criminal regime by force," read one sign.

The Geneva peace conference is being held to stem the violence that has forced millions to flee, destabilized the region and turned Syria into a magnet for al-Qaeda-affiliated militants.

bk/kms (AP, Reuters)

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