Leading Syrian opposition figures and organizations have met in Istanbul to look for ways to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's regime. The meeting follows Friday's deadly crackdown by Syrian security forces on opposition protests.
Hundreds of opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gathered for the so-called "National Salvation Conference" in Istanbul. The meeting drew Syrians from across the social and political spectrum. Both secular and Islamic groups were present, including leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But a Kurdish representative to the conference, Dr. Mohammed Rashid, told VOA's Kurdish Service that Kurdish participants left the conference when the ethnic rights of Kurds were not recognized.
Those attending the conference were drawn from people living in Syria and in exile. The president of the Syrian Human Rights Association and conference leader, Haitham al-Maleh, made an appeal for unity. He said what I ask for is for those present to cooperate and to be faithful. He said making statements is easy, but changing the reality is not easy and he said the dissidents are up against a difficult regime in Syria.
Some organizers of the meeting had expressed the hope of setting up an alternative government in Damascus. But divisions hurt that effort. Instead, a joint draft declaration laying out a plan to take the opposition forward was drawn up. The Istanbul meeting was to coincide with a conference in Damascus, but Haitham al-Maleh said preparations for that meeting were crushed by Syrian security forces.
He said the center in which we were supposed to hold the Damascus conference was attacked, many were killed, injured and others arrested.
Syrian security forces on Friday killed at least 32 people following large anti-government protests. A small group of opponents met in Damascus in secret and they sent their addresses to the Istanbul meeting using the Skype Internet service.
Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at a press conference in Istanbul Saturday with her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu and was asked what it would take for Washington to back the Syrian opposition. "We are encouraged by what the Syrian people are doing for themselves. This Is not anything the United States or any other country is doing. It's what the Syrians are doing, trying to form an opposition, that can provide a pathway hopefully in peace with the government in the future," she said.
Clinton also said that Syria's "brutality" must stop and she said there must be an effort to enact government reforms.
Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu stressed that Turkey was not interfering in Syrian affairs, saying the fact that Turkey hosted Saturday's opposition meeting should not be seen as a hostile act by Damascus.