Syria opposition unity bid thwarted by Assad regime's brutal crackdown

But Syria's opposition in exile met in Istanbul anyway, electing what it called a National Salvation Council this weekend.

By , Correspondent

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    Syrian opposition supporters holding their national flag attend a meeting in Istanbul on Saturday.
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Members of Syria’s opposition in exile met this weekend and elected a council they say will challenge the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. But the group’s plan to hold a video conference with opposition leaders inside Syria, who have been leading an uprising that has now entered its fifth month, fell through after Syrian security forces attacked the neighborhood where the leaders were gathering in Damascus.

The meeting came after a bloody Friday in which Syrian security forces opened fire on large protests around the country. At least 28 people were killed on Friday, according to activists, who also say the regime has killed about 1,600 people since the protests against Mr. Assad and his authoritarian regime began in March.

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The planned gathering of opposition activists Saturday was canceled after Syrian forces attacked protests in the neighborhood where it was to be held, killing at least 15 protesters, reports The Washington Post. That kept the conference of exiled opposition figures in Istanbul from achieving its goal of connecting with the internal opposition and coming up with a unified strategy to oust Assad.

Yet the group in Istanbul went ahead and elected what it called a National Salvation Council, reports Reuters. Though the 25-member council includes Islamists, liberals, and independents, it is unclear how much support it has from protesters on the ground in Syria. It is mostly made up of aging figures who left Syria years ago.

The Post reports that one of the main groups organizing protests in Syria, the Local Coordination Committees, declined to send representatives to the gathering in Damascus that had planned to hold a video conference with the group in Istanbul. The group said it was unsure of the gathering’s motives.

Big turnout for protests

Activists say that more than a million people participated in protests Friday, reports The National, a daily paper based in the United Arab Emirates.

There were huge gatherings reported in the cities of Hama and Deir Ezzor, and even protests in many areas that have seen brutal military crackdowns on demonstrations, including Douma, Rastan, and Deraa, reports The National.

Troops fired on protests around the country, and the number of protesters reported killed ranged from 27 to 32. The Los Angeles Times reports that many of the deaths were in areas in or around the capital Damascus, apparently in an attempt to keep protests from taking hold in the heart of the city. The Times gathered videos posted on YouTube of Friday’s protests from around the country.

The National reports that Qaboun, the neighborhood where the opposition gathering was to have taken place, is a working-class area in northeastern Damascus that “has seen large, well-organized daily protests for weeks, despite being home to a large military base.” During protests on Friday, demonstrators formed cordons around government property to protect it from vandalism.

International pressure rising

International pressure on Assad increased last week, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the Syrian president has “lost legitimacy.”

Even Russia and China issued rare condemnations of Syria’s violent crackdown.

The Washington Post examines Secretary Clinton’s statement last week, reporting that her statement on Assad’s lack of legitimacy was an unplanned remark, and that the US policy toward Syria “has lately been shaped more by diplomatic improvisation than methodical planning within the White House.”

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