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Organizing the opposition

July 16, 2011

Members of the Syrian opposition met in Istanbul in order to organize their efforts to end 41 years of authoritarian rule by the Assad family. A parallel meeting in Damascus was aborted due to on-going violence.

Two child refugees in a Turkish camp
Thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey to escape violenceImage: dapd

Syrian opposition members met in Istanbul, Turkey on Saturday in a bid to form a united front against President Bashar al Assad and end a four-month long government crackdown on protesters that has taken an estimated 1,400 lives and led to the detention and flight of thousands more.

The opposition convened what they called a "National Salvation Congress," composed mostly of exiled dissidents, although some figures from the protest movement within Syria managed to attend the meeting. Both political liberals and Islamists attended the congress.

Although the opposition members were united in their desire to oust Assad, they struggled to find agreement on whether to form a shadow government.

"I'm for anything that unifies the Syrian people and helps our people inside, and unifies our ranks in confronting this illegitimate and repressive regime that has usurped power and human rights," opposition figure Wael al Hafez told the meeting in Istanbul.

"We want to raise the intensity of the peaceful confrontation by civil disobedience and to choke the regime economically and paralyze the state with the least damage."

Syrian opposition members meeting in Istanbul
Syrian opposition members represented both liberal and Islamic perspectivesImage: picture alliance/dpa

Aborted Damascus meeting

A parallel meeting of opposition activists was scheduled to take place in Syria's capital, Damascus, but was cancelled after 14 people died on Friday in the Qaboun neighborhood where the meeting was to be held.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Istanbul to attend a meeting of the Libya Contact Group, said that "the brutality" has to stop.

"What is happening in Syria is very uncertain and troubling because many of us had hoped that President Assad would make the reforms that were necessary," Clinton said.

"Yesterday we witnessed the largest demonstration to date in Syria, an effort to try to convey directly to the government the pent-up desire of the Syrian people for the kind of reforms that they have been promised."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who held a joint press conference with Clinton, warned the Syrian government to listen to the people and to implement a series of reforms before it is too late.

"A government that does not consider the demands of its society won't survive," Davutoglu said.

"Assad said he was going to have multi-party groups in parliament… I hope Syria has opposition parties and that Syria has opposition parties that raise their voice," he added.

Author: Spencer Kimball (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer