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Syrian anti-Assad forces form council to promote peaceful revolutions

- Associated Press - Thursday, September 15, 2011

ISTANBUL A group of Syrian opposition activists on Thursday announced the creation of a council designed to present a united front against President Bashar Assad's regime, which has waged a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters during the past six months.

The Syrian opposition consists of a variety of groups with often differing ideologies, including Islamists and secularists, and there have been many meetings of dissidents who say they represent the opposition.

But activists said the new Syrian National Council, formed during a meeting in Turkey, is the most serious initiative aimed at bringing revolutionary forces together.

It groups about 140 opposition figures, including exiled opponents and 70 dissidents inside Syria, said Bassma Kodmani, a Paris-based academic.

Ms. Kodmani added that the council "categorically opposes" any foreign intervention or military operations to bring down Mr. Assad's regime.

"We are in agreement over the peaceful nature of the revolution," she said.

A popular uprising began in Syria in mid-March amid a wave of anti-government protests in the Arab world that have toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Mr. Assad has reacted with deadly force that the U.N. estimates has left about 2,600 people dead.

The meeting in Istanbul took place as Syrian troops carried out raids in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus; the central province of Homs; and the northwestern region of Idlib that borders Turkey, activists said.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one person was killed and five were wounded when security forces opened fire during raids in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani.

The group said a paramedic who was wounded last week died in a hospital on Thursday.

The new opposition council aims to "convey the Syrian people's just problems on the international platform, to form a pluralist and democratic state," a statement said.

It also hopes to bring down the "leadership that is ruling through dictatorship and to unite the prominent politicians under one umbrella."

The reason it took so long to form the council is that "we wanted to make sure everyone was on board," said Adib Shishakli, an opposition member based in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Shishakli said the council would elect a leader at a later time.

Ahmad Ramadan, another opposition member, said the council would form 10 bureaus, including a foreign-relations office dedicated to "relaying the demands of the revolution, the people's requests to the outside world." He said it also would work to form a television station to help overthrow the regime.

Louay Safi, a U.S.-based academic, said the council is broad-based and includes Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Kurds and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is "open to everyone unless they are against democracy," he said.

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