Middle East

Syrian National Council head Burhan Ghalioun 'to resign'

Burhan Ghalioun speaks at a news conference after meeting Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata in Rome on 13 May 2012
Burhan Ghalioun's re-election as SNC president has been opposed by some in the alliance

The head of Syria's main opposition alliance, the Syrian National Council, has said he will resign amid growing criticism and rifts within the group.

Burhan Ghalioun, who was re-elected as SNC leader on Tuesday, said he would step down once a replacement was found.

The move comes as a key activist group said it may leave the SNC over what it called errors and a lack of consensus.

The SNC was formed last year to present a united front for the opposition, but has been dogged by divisions.

"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 said in a statement quoted by AFP news agency.

Mr Ghalioun, a Paris-based academic, has faced accusations that he is monopolising power, is too close to the Muslim Brotherhood - a major component of the SNC - and has failed to give enough support to activists inside Syria.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, a group of activists based both inside and outside Syria, on Thursday cited Mr Ghalioun's re-election for a third consecutive three-month term as one of the reasons for its threat to withdraw from the SNC .

'Organisational failure'

The LCC said the council was moving away from the "spirit and demands of the Syrian Revolution" and accused Mr Ghalioun of "political and organisational failure".

"In recent months, we have witnessed apparent political deficits in the Syrian National Council and a lack of consensus between the council and the revolutionary movement," it said.

The LCC added that it would move towards pulling out unless the "council's errors are not reviewed and demands are not addressed".

Bassma Kodmani, a leading Paris-based SNC figure, told the Associated Press news agency that the LCC's concerns were "justified and legitimate", but added that differences within the Syrian opposition were a "natural and healthy" sign of democracy.

The Syrian National Council was created as a coalition of seven opposition groups with the goal of providing a credible alternative to President Bashar al-Assad's government and of serving as a single point of contact for the international community.

But correspondents say continued disunity within the SNC has made the West reluctant to throw its weight behind both the council and the Syrian opposition as a whole.

The UN believes at least 9,000 people have died since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's rule began last year.

Starting as largely peaceful demonstrations against the government, the uprising has increasingly turned into an armed conflict following repeated violent crackdowns by the security forces.

In March, the SNC announced that it had created a military bureau to co-ordinate the various armed anti-government groups in Syria.

But the main armed group, the Free Syrian Army, responded by saying it would not co-operate with the new bureau.

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