Syria opposition and backers to meet in Paris: minister

PARIS Sun Jan 20, 2013 10:45am EST

PARIS (Reuters) - Syrian opposition leaders will meet in Paris this month, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday, decrying an "abominable" situation in which he said 100 people a day were being killed in an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

"The situation is horrific and Bashar must go as fast as possible," Fabius said.

"There will be a meeting of the coalition in Paris in a few days, on the 28th. It's a coalition recognized by more than 100 countries, led by extremely respectable people who simply want to restore democracy in Syria," he said.

Syria's opposition leaders met in Istanbul on Saturday to launch their second bid to form a transitional government.

Agreement among the National Coalition, a grouping formed last November, could help address international concern about the risk of Syria disintegrating along ethnic and sectarian lines if Assad falls.

Failure would highlight the divisions in the coalition, formed with Western and Gulf backing in Qatar, and undermine that support.

Fabius, interviewed on radio station Europe 1, said that the Paris meeting later this month would involve the "main backers" of the opposition coalition.

France has been pressing hard for an end to a 22-month conflict in which 60,000 people have been killed, according to United Nations estimates. "This is an abominable situation, with sadly around 100 people killed a day," Fabius said.

Syria's foreign minister said on Saturday any discussion of Assad's future was "unacceptable".

Fabius dismissed a newspaper report that Syrian forces had used non-lethal chemical weapons against rebels in the town of Homs in late December.

French daily Le Monde on Saturday cited unnamed intelligence sources as saying chemicals were used in four rockets fired on December 23. Le Monde suggested Western powers played down the event in the hope it was an isolated event that would not be repeated.

"That was alleged and we requested verification, not just us but other countries too," said Fabius. "And it was not conclusive. We were told 'No'."

Western powers had previously warned that any use of chemical weapons - banned almost everywhere in the world - could force them into action in the conflict, Le Monde said.

(Reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Alison Williams and Sonya Hepinstall)

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