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Thursday 18 September 2014

Syrian opposition to attend talks

Published 18/01/2014 | 17:57

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Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Syrian opposition to attend a conference next week in Switzerland (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The main, western-backed Syrian opposition group has voted in favour of attending next week's peace conference aimed at ending the country's bloody civil war.

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The Syrian National Coalition's media office said that of 73 voters, 58 voted in favour of attending the conference.

The coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks, scheduled to open on Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux.

Many coalition members were hesitant to attend a conference that has little chance of success and will burn the last shred of credibility the group has with powerful rebels on the ground, who reject the talks.

The Syrian government has already said it will attend the talks.

AP

It will be the first face-to-face meeting between the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition since the country's crisis began in March 2011, killing more than 100,000 people and displacing millions.

The US and Russia have been trying to hold the peace conference since last year and it has been repeatedly delayed. Both sides finally agreed to sit together at the negotiation table after dropping some of their conditions.

The aim of the conference, dubbed Geneva 2, is to agree on a road map for Syria based on one adopted by the US, Russia and other major powers in June 2012. That plan includes the creation of a transitional government and eventual elections.

One of the main demands of the opposition was that President Bashar Assad agrees to step down before going to the conference. With his government troops keeping their momentum on the ground, Assad's government has said he will not surrender power and may run again in elections due in mid-2014.

Many coalition members boycotted the Istanbul meetings that began yesterday, forcing the coalition's legal committee to approve the decision in a simple majority vote.

The coalition's media office said the group's leader, Ahmad al-Jarba, will give a speech "to the Syrian people" later.

AP

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