Middle East

Syrian opposition meet in Damascus to support protests

Unverified image from social media site said to show anti-government protesters carrying a coffin in Damascus, 4 September 2011
Image caption More than 2,000 people are thought to have died since the anti-government protests began

More than 200 Syrian opposition figures have met near Damascus in an effort to unite anti-government groups.

The meeting, held at a private farm outside the capital, follows months of protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

No arrests were made, although the opposition figures who attended were monitored by security officials.

Saturday's meeting comes two days after opposition parties in exile formed the Syrian National Council in Turkey.

Dr Samir Aita, an opposition figure living abroad who attended the Damascus meeting, said the event was significant.

"The importance of this meeting lies in the fact that it is happening in Damascus, on Syrian soil, in support of the protesters despite all the security difficulties," he said.

Inspired by anti-government protests in Tunisia and Egypt, the opposition movement began more than five months ago as a series of protests against Syria's authorities.

A violent crackdown by security forces has since left more than 2,200 people dead, according to the UN.

The government says hundreds of its personnel have been killed.

Image caption The meeting was drawn from members of Syria's established opposition

Most of the people who attended the opposition meeting were drawn from Syria's established opposition - who have spent years of their life in prison, says the BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus.

Representatives of the protesters did not attend, fearing arrest, but they supported the meeting and their demands were read out, she adds.

One activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, denied any involvement with the conference and said it could only form an alliance or coalition with the traditional opposition once the government had been toppled.

The opposition asked for no international intervention, no sectarianism and no violence.

Embryonic assembly

At Thursday's meeting in Istanbul, members of Syria's opposition groups chose 140 people to form a "national council".

Its aim is to organise and give a public face to protests against Mr Assad.

It will also co-ordinate the opposition's policies against the Syrian leadership.

Half of those selected are in Syria, with the remainder drawn from opposition figures in Syria's disapora.

There have been earlier attempts to unite the country's opposition under one banner, but this attempt is being cast as having the full backing of all opposition groups, in effect an embryonic Syrian national assembly.

Speaking on Thursday, an opposition spokeswoman, Basma Qadmani, said: "After completing the first level of consultative meetings, groups of revolutionary youth, political movements and personalities, activists and technocrats decided to found the Syrian National Council."

Yasser Tabbara, another member of the council, said it had not yet elected a president.

"We are in a democratic process. This is an inaugural meeting," he told the AFP news agency.