Syrian opposition leader to resign

Burhan Ghalioun's resignation highlights the problems facing Syria's divided and, some say, ineffectual opposition.

Free Syrian Army fighters shout "Allahu Akbar" near Deraa in this still image taken from a video obtained by Reuters on Thursday.
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BEIRUT // The head of Syria's troubled opposition announced yesterday he would resign amid a chorus of complaints about the mismanagement of efforts to topple the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

Burhan Ghalioun had just been re-elected president of the Syrian National Council (SNC) on Tuesday, but critics complained that another three-month term under the sociology professor would harm the organisation.

"I will not allow myself to be the candidate of division. I am not attached to a position, so I announce that I will step down after a new candidate has been chosen, either by consensus or through new elections," Mr Ghalioun, who has headed the SNC since its creation in August, said in a statement.

The 67-year-old would remain an SNC member, he said, "hand-in-hand with the young people who struggle … until victory".

His resignation highlights the problems facing Syria's divided and, some say, ineffectual opposition, consisting of exiled Islamist and secular figures, as well as activists operating inside Syria.

Critics complain that the SNC leadership lacks transparency and is out of touch with the people facing down the Syria army inside the country.

Shortly before Mr Ghalioun's announcement, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) threatened to withdraw from the SNC because of its "political incompetence", "monopolisation" of power and "a total lack of consensus between its vision and that of the revolutionaries".

The LCC, whose members operate inside Syria, added that the SNC had "drifted away from the spirit of the Syrian revolution".

The displays of dysfunction followed a pledge by Mr Al Assad not to budge from his government's policy towards the uprising. As many as 12,000 people have been killed since pro-reform demonstrations began in March last year.

In his first interview since December, the Syrian president dismissed his opponents as weak and reiterated that the rebels were "terrorists" supported by foreign actors. He also issued a veiled but stern warning to leaders of Arab countries - namely, Qatar and Saudi Arabia - not to meddle in Syria's affairs.

"For the leaders of these countries, it's becoming clear that this is not 'Spring' but chaos, and as I have said, if you sow chaos in Syria you may be infected by it yourself, and they understand this perfectly well," said Mr Al Assad in an interview broadcast on Wednesday by Russia's state-run Rossiya-24 TV channel.

He also vowed to present to the media "foreign mercenaries, some of them still alive".

Mr Al Assad did not identify where the mercenaries came from. Syria has blamed foreign conspirators for leading the rebellion.

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with the indirect support from the United States, have in recent weeks increased financial support to help Syrian rebels acquire weapons, according to reports.

Analysts also say Syrian insurgents have grown more lethal recently, although they still lack the firepower of the better-organised government forces, armed to a significant extent by Russia.

Efforts to persuade Moscow, which has vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions censuring Syria, to soften support for Damascus still appear to have failed.

Kremlin adviser Arkady Dvorkovich surprised western nations yesterday with an announcement that Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, would not attend a G8 summit over the weekend that would discuss the crisis in Syria.

The prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, would instead attend the gathering of heads of state from G8 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US — at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington.

"There are differences" of opinion on Syria, he told reporters in Moscow, adding the international community should send a "strong signal" to both Syria's government and its rebels.

Meanwhile, a UN committee has reported at least two illicit Iranian weapons shipments arriving in Syria recently, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

Tehran has made the shipments of unspecified armaments despite being slapped with four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions that bar such activity, the news agency reported, citing members of a panel tasked to monitor the world body sanction.

"Syria continues to be the central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers," a diplomat was quoted as saying.

The Security Council is expected to discuss the findings of the report, approved by the eight-member panel that compiled it, although no date was given.

The international community has imposed sanctions on Tehran over its uranium-enrichment activities, which the United States and Europe allege are being used to build nuclear weapons.

Iran claims its nuclear activities are peaceful.

With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse