Arab League meets Assad foes on Syria's future

CAIRO Tue Nov 15, 2011 8:49am EST

CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab League has asked Syrian opposition groups to submit their vision for a transition of power ahead of a bigger conference on Syria's future, a League official and a member of the opposition said on Tuesday.

The League agreed on Saturday to start talks with Syrian dissidents after a majority of its 22 members voted to suspend Syria's membership of the pan-Arab body from Wednesday over its violent response to protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

The Cairo-based organization acted after Damascus failed to implement an Arab initiative that sought to stop the bloodshed and start dialogue between the government and opposition.

Arab and Western nations have increased Syria's isolation, although Russia still backs Damascus, saying the League had made the wrong move and accusing the West of inciting Assad's foes..

Despite the diplomatic pressure, there has been let-up in violence. Activists said on Tuesday at least 69 people were killed in southern Syria the previous day, most in clashes between loyalist troops and army deserters.

The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed in the eight-month-old crackdown.

League officials held informal talks with members of Syria's opposition in Cairo on Monday and Tuesday, Abdel Basset Sedah, a member of the Syrian National Council's executive office, said.

"The Arab League will announce soon a date for a conference to include many of the Syrian opposition groups to discuss the ways and time needed to move to a transitional period.

"We could also discuss the mechanism to negotiate with the regime about stepping down," Sedah told Reuters.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby "asked a delegation from the Syrian National Council on Monday to present in a document its vision for Syria through a transitional period," said a League official, who asked not to be named.

The official said the same request had been made to other Syrian opposition groups.

SYRIA WANTS ARAB SUMMIT

The official said the League will stage a big conference with the Syrian opposition to discuss its plans, with a date to be set after Wednesday's Arab League meeting in Morocco.

Elaraby said on Sunday that League officials would meet Syrian opposition groups but that it was too soon to consider recognizing them as Syria's legitimate authority.

The League chief met representatives of Arab civil society groups on Monday and agreed to send a 500-strong fact-finding committee, including military personnel, to Syria as part of efforts to end the crackdown on demonstrators and dissenters.

Syria has called for an emergency Arab summit in an apparent bid to avoid being suspended. The League has not yet responded to the request but has acknowledged receiving it.

Assad's government is facing U.S. and European sanctions on Syrian oil exports, several state businesses and individuals, and has alienated Syria's powerful northern neighbor, Turkey.

The European Union added 18 people on Tuesday to its Syria sanctions list, including senior military and intelligence chiefs, a deputy minister and a lawyer.

The EU said the military and intelligence officials, subject to asset freezes and a ban on travel to the 27-member bloc, were among those responsible for the violent crackdown.

(Writing by Yasmine Saleh; Editing by Edmund Blair and Alistair Lyon)

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