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Q&A: Syrian opposition alliance

image captionSNC Chairman Burhan Ghalioun is a prominent opposition figure

Opposition groups in Syria have announced the formation of a united front against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian National Council (SNC) comprises groups from across Syria's fractured opposition landscape. Chairman Burhan Ghalioun has said the SNC unites the "forces of opposition and the peaceful revolution".

The SNC is a coalition of seven Syrian opposition factions aimed at offering a credible alternative to Mr Assad's regime. Its formation recalls that of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), which earned international recognition through its opposition to the rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and is now leading the country's affairs.

Ghalioun has said the body is "an independent group personifying the sovereignty of the Syrian people in their struggle for liberty" and is "open to all Syrians".

The SNC plans to elect a chairman and stage a general assembly of 190 members next month.

Among the seven groups included are:

•The Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change grouping - a movement born during the so-called "Damascus Spring" of 2000/2001 which called for broad democratic reform, and was suppressed by the Assad regime.

•The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood - A banned Islamic political party, membership of which can be punishable by death under Syrian law.

•Local Coordination Committees - Grass-roots movements that have led demonstrations across the country.

•Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) - a coalition of 40 opposition blocs.

•Kurdish factions, tribal leaders and independent figures make up the rest of the council.

Since May, there have been several attempts to unite the various anti-government movements in Syria.

An early incarnation of the council was established in August during the opposition conference in Istanbul, but failed to unify the ethnically, religiously and politically fragmented factions of the opposition. There were a number of disputed issues and the Local Coordination Committees declared that the council did not represent them.

Opposition leaders like Ghalioun insisted on the importance of achieving unity within the council and ensuring that all factions were adequately representated.

The formation of the SNC was formally announced in Istanbul on Sunday, following a two day meeting on structure and aims.

The main declared aim of the SNC is to provide "the necessary support for the revolution to progress and realise the aspirations of our people for the overthrow of the regime, its symbols and its head". It has officially rejected foreign military intervention, but has urged the international community to "protect the Syrian people".

The SNC National Consensus Charter lists human rights, judicial independence, press freedom, democracy and political pluralism among its guiding principles.

A former Muslim Brotherhood leader has said the party supports "the establishment of a modern, civil, democratic state."

An academic based in France, Ghalioun is a prominent opposition figure who has regularly called for democratic reform across the Arab world.

He was born in Homs in 1945 and studied philosophy at Damascus University. He also holds a PhD in humanities and philosophy from the Sorbonne.

Al-Jazeera has reported that protesters in Al-Bayyadah and Al-Hawlah in the province of Homs took to the streets in support of the SNC while chanting for international support.

In contrast, Syrian MP Anas al-Shami has said the SNC has no legitimacy and is implementing an agenda set by Israel, the US and other "conspirators targeting Syria".

Gaining support from protesters is a plus for the SNC, but there are doubts as to whether it will succeed in consolidating its position should it achieve its stated aim of toppling the regime.

Syria's opposition is notoriously fragmentary and questions have been asked as to how a coherent political framework can be established amid apparently contrasting political and religious ideologies.

The SNC National Consensus Charter has affirmed that a consensus exists across "all spectrums of the opposition" and pledged to build a "proud and dignified nation that accommodates its entire people".

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.