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No compromise

July 11, 2011

Syria's main opposition groups have refused to participate in a national dialogue until the government ends its crackdown. Meanwhile, Syria has accused the US and France of intervening in its internal affairs.

Syrian government and some opposition figures holding talks
The Syrian dialogue was held despite the boycottImage: dapd

Prominent opposition groups in Syria boycotted reconciliation talks with the government on Sunday, saying they will not negotiate with Damascus until President Bashar al-Assad ends a months-long violent crackdown on protesters.

"We risked our lives to make it clear: No dialogue and no negotiation over our freedom and rights," Luai Hussein, a member of the opposition Follow-Up Group, told the news agency DPA.

"The only dialogue would be to discuss removing a despotic regime and the peaceful transition to a democratic civil state based on citizenship, law and human rights."

Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa said, however, that Sunday's talks were in fact aimed at laying the groundwork for the transition to a democratic and pluralistic state.

"At this time there is no alternative to dialogue. [The alternative] is bloodshed, economic bleeding and self-destruction," al-Sharaa said.

"National dialogue should continue and on all levels … in order to turn the page on the past and open a new page in the history of Syria."

National dialogue

The two-day meeting is set to discuss constitutional amendments and the laws governing elections, media and the creation of political parties other than the ruling Baath party.

Syrian protesters
The crackdown on protesters continues despite the dialogueImage: picture-alliance/dpa

President Assad officially abolished a decades-old emergency law last April but then continued a military crackdown on anti-government protesters. The Syrian government claims that the unrest has been incited by Islamic extremists who have taken the lives of 500 security forces.

Human rights groups say that 1,300 civilians have been killed and 12,000 arrested since the crackdown on anti-government protesters began last March.

Diplomatic row

Meanwhile, the Syrian government summoned the ambassadors of the United States and France on Sunday after they visited the restive city of Hama without authorization from the government, according to the state news agency SANA.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry was quoted by SANA as saying that the visit by US Ambassador Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier demonstrated "clear evidence of the American and French intervention in Syria's internal affairs and confirms that there is external support for [protests]."

In turn, Washington accused the Syrian government of organizing a 31-hour protest outside of the US embassy in Damascus over the weekend. The embassy building was pelted with tomatoes, eggs, glass and rocks, according to the US State Department.

France summoned the Syrian ambassador in Paris after violent demonstrations occured outside of its diplomatic residences in Damascus and Aleppo.

The French government said that French flags were burned, projectiles thrown and vehicles destroyed as security forces stood by.

Author: Spencer Kimball (Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson