Ghalioun given month more as Syrian opposition head

ISTANBUL/AMMAN Mon Jan 9, 2012 12:33pm EST

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ISTANBUL/AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian opposition leaders meeting in Istanbul gave Burhan Ghalioun a one-month extension as head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) on Monday, after earlier rejecting a draft accord he had signed with a rival opposition group.

"Ghalioun's three-month tenure was renewed for another month until a better mechanism to elect a head of the council is devised," the source, in direct contact with delegates attending the closed meeting, told Reuters in Amman.

SNC spokeswoman Basma Kadmani declined to confirm the decision, saying the meeting of the 26-member secretariat was still under way at a hotel in Istanbul, but added that a communique would be issued later.

Ghalioun has been criticized by other members of the mostly exiled SNC for signing the draft document at the end of last year with the National Coordination Body (NCB) outlining a transition to a democratic post-Assad Syria.

Days after Ghalioun signed the draft accord with the NCB, a centrist bloc inside Syria, the SNC's executive council rejected it, despite a call from the Arab League for opponents of President Bashar al-Assad to show more unity.

Alternative candidates to head the SNC have emerged and Ghalioun could face an uphill struggle next month to retain the presidency.

Although they are largely outside Syria, members of the SNC see themselves as having stronger links with activists struggling to oust Assad than the NCB.

Ghalioun, a Paris-based academic, was appointed the first president of the SNC in October. The presidency, under the SNC's charter, should be rotated every three months, but there had been some expectations that Ghalioun could hold onto the job for longer.

Council members had devised the rotating presidency to contrast with the Assad family's monopoly of power.

They later changed the rules as Ghalioun, a respected secular professor of politics working in France, gained international stature and emerged as a figure both Islamists and non-Islamists within the Council could work with.

DIFFERENCES

Objections to the agreement with the NCB centred on the proposal from the NCB that the two groups should unite under a new banner.

There were also differences on policy, notably over NCB's opposition to foreign military intervention in Syria.

Kadmani said that while the first draft of the accord with the NCB "had not been fully approved" by the council, it would be amended and re-submitted for approval to be presented at a forthcoming meeting at the Arab League in Cairo.

She said members of the NCB could join the council, but ruled out the possibility of a new group being formed.

"There will be no change... the council can broaden its ranks but not change," Kadmani said.

She went to say differences on policy could be bridged.

"There is no major difference on foreign intervention... we have agreed on a joint formulation of what foreign intervention means and how it should come about if it were to come about."

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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