New Syria opposition chief urges regime members to defect

AFP , Sunday 10 Jun 2012

The new Head of SNC, Abdel Basset Sayda, pledged of a united Syria that respect the rights of all the minority groups including the Alawites and Christians

The new leader of Syria's exiled opposition called Sunday on all members of the Damascus regime to defect amid raging violence that has claimed thousands of lives.

"We call upon all officials in the regime and in the institutions to defect from the regime," Abdel Basset Sayda, who was named Sunday to lead the opposition Syrian National Council, told reporters in Istanbul.

Sayda also reached out to minority groups in Syria, promising them a full say in a future, democratic Syria.

"We would like to reassure all sects and groups, especially Alawites and Christians, that the future of Syria will be for the all of us," he said.

"There will be no discrimination based on gender or sects. The new Syria will be a democratic state."

The SNC has been criticised for failing to represent the country's full array of ethnic and religious groups including Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and others.

Sayda pledged to broaden the basis of the opposition group to embrace all groups.

He also urged Syrians abroad to stage protests outside Syrian embassies around the world.

"We announce our determination to expand the basis of the SNC to be an umbrella under which all the opposition gathers," said Sayda.

"It's a chance for other groups to join the SNC."

Sayda, a Kurdish activist, was elected as the SNC's new leader at a conference here.

He replaces the opposition's first leader, Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun, who stepped down last month in the face of mounting divisions that were undermining the group's credibility.

Ghalioun also attended Sunday's news conference.

Insiders said Sayda's lack of ties to any particular group and his reputation as a moderate would help the SNC prove it has broad appeal among Syria's diverse groups.

Violence has intensified in Syria despite the presence of 300 UN observers charged with monitoring a truce that was supposed to take effect on April 12.

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