BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian dissidents meeting in Turkey formally announced Sunday the creation of a broad-based council designed to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime in what appeared to be the most serious step yet to unify a fragmented opposition.
Members of the Syrian National Council (SNC) said that it would be an umbrella group for various opposition groups both inside and outside the country and a vehicle for democratic change.
The council aims at “achieving the wishes and hopes of our people in overthrowing the current regime … including the head of this regime,” according to a statement read by opposition figure Bourhan Ghalioun in a news conference in Istanbul.
The Syrian opposition consists of a variety of groups with differing ideologies, including Islamists and secularists, and there have been many meetings of dissidents claiming to represent Syria’s popular uprising since it erupted seven months ago. But the new council is the broadest umbrella movement of revolutionary forces formed so far.
A group of Syrian activists had declared the preliminary formation of the council last month, but its structure and goals, and a founding statement signed by major opposition factions, had not been announced until this conference.
Ghalioun said that the council aims to present a united front for the opposition, and urged Syrians everywhere to support it.
He said he was not worried about whether the international community recognized the council, although one major benefit of the council to the Syrian opposition would be to provide a single body with which other countries could coordinate.
Ghalioun said it included representatives from the Damascus Declaration grouping, a pro-democracy network based in the capital, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Kurdish factions, and the grass roots Local Coordination Committees which have led protests across the country, as well as other independent and tribal figures.
He said the council categorically rejects any foreign intervention or military operations to bring down Assad’s regime but called on the international community to “protect the Syrian people” from “the declared war and massacres being committed against them by the regime.”
The council’s statement said that protesters should continue to use “peaceful means” to topple the Syrian leader, but there have been increasing reports of some protesters taking up arms to protect themselves.
The organizers have not named a leader for the national council, but appeared to give a leading role to Ghalioun, a respected and popular opposition figure who is also a scholar of contemporary oriental studies at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Bassma Kodmani, another Paris-based academic, said the council consists of three bodies: a general assembly, a general secretariat and an executive committee. Leadership of the council will be rotating, she said.
Syria’s uprising began in mid-March amid a wave of anti-government protests in the Arab world that have so far toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Assad has reacted with deadly force that the U.N. estimates has left some 2,700 people dead.