Assad opponents unite, ask world for help

ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – Syria’s main opposition groups  joined together yesterday to call on the international community  to take action to protect Syrian people facing a violent  crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Bashar al-Assad

A statement issued in Istanbul on behalf of the newly formed  National Council rejected foreign intervention that “compromises  Syria’s sovereignty” but said the outside world had a  humanitarian obligation to protect the Syrian people.  “The Council demands international governments and  organisations meet their responsibility to support the Syrian  people, protect them and stop the crimes and gross human rights  violations being committed by the illegitimate current regime,”  the statement said.

It also said the Muslim Brotherhood, the Damascus  Declaration – the main grouping of established opposition  figures – and grassroots activists all had joined the National  Council.      While few expect a Libya-style intervention in Syria, the  declaration was nonetheless an important show of unity for the  opposition, which has been weakened by in-fighting.

“The fact that Islamists, secular figures and activists in  the ground are now on one council is a significant,” a diplomat  in the Syrian capital Damascus said.

“But they still have to demonstrate that they could be  politically savvy and able to fill any political vacuum. They  need a detailed action plan beyond the generalities of wanting a  democratic Syria.” The United Nations says 2,700 people, including 100  children, have been killed in six months of protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

The 46-year old president, who inherited power from his  father in 2000, blames the violence on armed gangs backed by  foreign forces, while his officials say 700 police and soldiers  have been killed, as well as 700 “mutineers”.

The authorities have also dismissed the opposition  organising outside Syria as a foreign conspiracy to sow  sectarian strife. The Istanbul declaration was read out by Bourhan Ghalioun, a  secular professor of politics living in France. He was flanked  by Islamists, including Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Riad  al-Shaqfa, Christian and Kurdish politicians and Samir Nashar, a  member of the Damascus Declaration.  Among those represented in the Damascus Declaration are   former parliamentarian Riad Seif, seen as possibly playing a  leadership role if Assad were to fall, and Riad al-Turk, Syria’s  top dissident.

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