Leader of Syria’s Fragmented Opposition to Resign

Posted May 17th, 2012 at 3:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Syria's fragmented opposition has suffered a further setback, with the newly re-elected head of the main exiled coalition offering to resign due to criticism of his leadership and infighting that has plagued groups trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghalioun said Thursday he does not want to be a cause of division in the opposition coalition and will step down as soon as a replacement is chosen through consensus or election.

The Paris-based secular academic has served as SNC leader since its formation last year and was elected Tuesday to another three-month term by a majority of SNC members who attended a meeting in Rome. Ghalioun promised to stay active in the group after his resignation.

The SNC's Paris-based head of foreign relations Bassma Kodmani told VOA that leaders of the body planned to meet later on Thursday to make a quick decision about how to elect a new council president.

Analysts say the SNC's leadership dispute highlights a major shortcoming of the Syrian opposition movement: a continued lack of unity in its battle to end Mr. Assad's 11-year rule. But, in a phone interview with VOA, Kodmani said the leadership transition is an “opportunity” for the SNC to refocus its efforts on what she called its original purpose of serving the activists at the front line of the uprising inside Syria.

Western and Arab nations supporting the uprising have long urged the SNC to heal its divisions and present a credible alternative to the Assad government. But a series of prominent dissidents has quit the SNC in recent months, with some complaining that Islamists hold too much influence over the group.

Kodmani said the SNC will try to limit the influence of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood by finding a balance in its membership that reflects Syria's political, religious and ethnic diversity.

Earlier Thursday, a faction of the SNC threatened to quit unless the organization restructures itself. The Local Coordination Committees accused SNC leaders of failing to cooperate with revolutionaries inside Syria and marginalizing young members of the organization. The LCC is an activist network whose members are mostly Syria-based.

The Local Coordination Committees' representative to the SNC told VOA that Ghalioun's offer to resign is a “step in the right direction” of reforming the opposition coalition. Speaking by phone from Berlin, Hozan Ibrahim said the SNC also should channel more money to youths and revolutionaries engaged in relief work and protests inside Syria.

Ibrahim said the LCC suspended its involvement in SNC meetings last month and will withdraw completely if reforms are not implemented. But, he downplayed the significance of such a move, saying the LCC has a limited interest in politics and could still support the organization from the outside.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported new attacks by the Syrian government on Thursday. The group told VOA that government forces fired at least 30 shells into the rebel-held town of Rastan, north of Homs, during a 10-minute-long attack just after midnight.

Syrian President Assad suggested Wednesday that he has little intention of ending his deadly 14-month crackdown on dissent. He told a Russian television station that his government is fighting foreign-backed terrorists – not democracy activists.

“It's not an army, first of all, and it's not free because they get their arms from different foreign countries. That's why they're not free at all. They are a bunch of criminals who have been violating the law for years and have been sentenced in various criminal cases. They are religious extremists like those from al-Qaida.”

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in violence related to the anti-government uprising that erupted more than a year ago.