Syrian opposition in new search for transitional government

Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:35am EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Syria's opposition leaders on Saturday launched their second bid to form a transitional government, with their credibility at stake as the country slides deeper into civil war.

Agreement among the National Coalition, an umbrella group for the Syrian opposition, could help address international concern about the risk of Syria disintegrating along ethnic and sectarian lines if President Bashar al-Assad falls.

Failure at the talks, being held in an Istanbul hotel, would highlight divisions in the coalition, formed with Western and Gulf backing in Qatar two months ago, and undermine that support.

Leading opposition campaigner Kamal al-Labwani, a member of the coalition, said the group needed at least to name a prime minister to maintain credibility as a democratic alternative to four decades of family rule by Assad and his late father, President Hafez al-Assad.

"The coalition is a legislature and we need an executive. There have been lots of mistakes and the people we are supposed to represent inside feel marginalized," said Labwani, one of a minority of liberal figures in the Islamist-dominated coalition.

The United Nations says 60,000 people have been killed in Syria's 22-month conflict. A collapse of the country could draw in rival powers in a region where the Sunni-Shi'ite faultline has been deepening since the Arab Spring revolts began in Tunisia two years ago, toppling dictators in four Arab countries and ushering in Islamist political ascendancy.

The rise of jihadist rebels in the last few months as a dominant force in the armed opposition, and the possibility of a massive backlash by the Sunni majority against Assad's Alawite minority, has made international powers hold back from supporting the increasingly radicalized, mostly Sunni rebels.

LATEST MASSACRE   Continued...

A fire burns after what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Daraya January 18, 2013, in this picture provided by Shaam News Network . REUTERS/Kenan Al-Derani/Shaam News Network/Handout