UK meeting plans for possible post-Assad Syria

LONDON Tue Jan 8, 2013 2:01pm EST

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will host an international meeting to plan for the period after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's "inevitable" departure, the Foreign Office said on Tuesday.

The meeting will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, and delegates will include Syria experts, academics in post-conflict stabilization, representatives of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) opposition group and other agencies.

The gathering highlights jitters over the shape of a post-Assad Syria, and experts fear regional and sectarian rivalries could extend the bloodshed and destabilize other countries in the strategically sensitive and volatile region.

"Aim is to galvanize planning for political transition in Syria," Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Twitter.

"Assad's departure from power is inevitable. Vital that international community plans ahead for the day after in Syria," he said.

Hague, along with other Western leaders, dismissed a defiant speech by Assad on Sunday, which the Syrian president billed as peace plan but in which he rejected talks with his opponents. Rebels described the speech as a renewed declaration of war.

While many experts say Assad's ousting is all but certain, there is no sign his rule will end soon. Rebels are edging closer to the center of the capital Damascus, but Assad still has backing from powerful allies Russia, China and Iran.

More than 60,000 people have died in the uprising which has developed into a civil war since it erupted in March 2011, the United Nations said last week.

Foreign ministers and SNC chief Mouaz Alkhatib are not expected to attend the talks. The meeting is not open to reporters, and the conclusions are expected to be published in a closing communique.

(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Alison Williams)

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