New Syrian opposition leader urges
decisive U.N. action
The new president of the Syrian National Council,
Abdelbasset Sayda, a Kurd, speaks during a news
conference in Istanbul June 10, 2012. The main
Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian
National Council, elected Kurdish activist Sayda as
its leader at a meeting in Istanbul on Sunday, a
council statement said. Sayda succeeds Burhan
Ghalioun, a liberal opposition figure who had
presided over the council since it was formed in
August last year. Photo: Reuters
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ISTANBUL, — The new leader of the main
Syrian opposition umbrella group urged world powers
on Sunday to protect civilians from President Bashar
al-Assad's crackdown and take decisive action at the
United Nations that could be implemented by force.
Abdelbasset Sayda, elected leader of the Syrian
National Council (SNC) at a meeting in Istanbul,
said countries should "stop the killing machine in a
decisive decision under (United Nations) Chapter 7".
If the U.N. Security Council could not reach
agreement, then countries could take actions outside
a U.N. mandate, he said.
Sayda, who has been living in exile in Sweden for
many years, was the only candidate for the
three-month presidency of the SNC at a meeting of 33
members of the council's general secretariat.
After his election he sought to reassure Syria's
minority Christian and Alawite communities, who fear
the mainly Sunni Muslim uprising could threaten
their existence in the country, that their future
would be secure.
"There will be no discrimination based on religion,
faith or ethnicity," Sayda told a news conference.
The 56-year-old succeeds Burhan Ghalioun, a liberal
opposition figure who had presided over the council
since it was formed last August.
Ghalioun, also an exile and who lives in Paris, had
come under criticism for having had his presidency
constantly renewed when the council was supposed to
represent a democratic alternative to Assad's
The Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential player
in the council, had initially indicated it wanted
Ghalioun to remain president, but then opted to
support Sayda after opposition activists inside Syria
raised objections to Ghalioun after a third renewal
of his term last month.
Adib al-Shihakly, a founding member of the council,
had threatened to resign if Ghalioun remained
Assad's opponents have been plagued by division
since the outbreak of protests against his rule in
March last year. The SNC has not won clear
international endorsement and has little influence
over protesters and activists inside Syria.
Opposition sources said the election of Sayda could
help enlist more Kurds, who number one million out
of Syria's 21 million population, behind the
Demonstrations against Assad's rule have been
regularly breaking out in Kurdish regions of Syria
but without matching the intensity of protests in
the rest of the country.
That may be partly because of support by Assad for
the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK),www.ekurd.net
which is suspected of being behind assassinations of
several anti-Assad Kurdish opposition figures since
the revolt erupted.
Kurdish members of the council have had open
disputes with the remainder of the body over the
issue of Kurdish rights and whether a post-Assad
Syria would be built around a federal structure
similar to that in neighbouring Iraq.
Sayda said his priority was to expand the council and
seek to include other opposition figures. Some have
accused the council of being dominated by Islamists.
Bassam Ishak, a member of the general secretariat,
said Sayda was elected to fulfil demands from within
the council and from the opposition inside Syria as
well as international powers to make the body more
Sayda would work on convening a meeting of the whole
council after a month, during which a new general
secretariat and a new president could be elected,
possibly making Sayda a transitional leader, Ishak
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