* SNC creates alternative government to Assad's
* Fears being sidelined by new diplomatic push to end war
* Indicates will not accept any deal letting Assad stay
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Dasha Afanasieva
ISTANBUL, Sept 14 The opposition Syrian National
Coalition elected a moderate Islamist as provisional prime
minister on Saturday, hoping to avoid being sidelined as world
powers renew diplomatic efforts to end the civil war.
The SNC has long sought recognition as a government in
exile, but has been hampered by internal divisions and varying
pressures from its Arab and Western backers. The election of
48-year-old opposition campaigner Ahmad Tumeh is meant to show
it can fulfil that role.
Coalition sources said the decision to proceed with naming a
provisional government went ahead despite opposition from the
United States, which hopes to convene, along with Russia, a
peace conference in Geneva that could come up with a
That follows a deal between Russia and the United States
over President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons arsenal that
could lead to efforts towards a wider settlement of the
two-and-a-half year conflict.
Tumeh said his priority would be restoring order to areas of
Syria no longer controlled by Assad.
"The priority of my government will be to restore stability
in the liberated areas, improve their living conditions and
provide security," Tumeh told Reuters after his election at an
SNC meeting in Istanbul.
Tumeh addressed coalition members as "comrades on the path
to freedom," and indicated that the SNC would not compromise on
a deal that could keep Assad in power.
"The Syrian people carried their lives and marched for
freedom, not to improve the conditions of their serfdom," Tumeh
said, adding that he would name his cabinet shortly.
In a closed door briefing, Tumeh told the coalition that the
provisional government would operate from northern Syria,
members present told Reuters.
It will be a task fraught with risk, with al Qaeda-linked
militants, with a significant presence in the north,
ideologically opposed to moderates such as Tumeh, who has
preached tolerance and democratic change during a long political
The SNC appointed its first provisional prime minister in
March, but that bid to create a government-in-exile fizzled out.
SNC member Khaled Khoja said the new provisional government
had to prove itself quickly or the coalition as a whole would be
undermined, to the benefit of the more hardline Islamists.
"News of (the U.S-Russian) agreement cast a shadow over the
appointment of the prime minister," Khoja said.
"I think the government issue is not on their agenda. They
are not keen to see this government on board. They (the
Americans) wanted to agree on a government through Geneva, not
before," Khoja said.
Tumeh, a former political prisoner from the eastern province
of Deir al-Zor, got 75 votes out of 97 cast in a coalition
ballot in Istanbul. He is expected to choose a cabinet of 13
ministers in a deal reached after two days of talks.
Russia and the United States agreed on a new push to
negotiate an end to the civil war on Friday by reviving an
international plan for a "Geneva 2" conference.
The original drive for a political solution to the conflict
dubbed the "Geneva" plan and calling for a transitional
government with full power, went nowhere as Assad refused to
cede power, and the opposition insisted that he could not be a
part of any new political order.
Financing for the Tumeh government will mainly come from the
Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, which has emerged as the main
backer of the coalition, opposition sources said. Khoja said the
government would initially need at least $200 million a month.
Louay Safi, a senior member of the coalition said Tumeh
would improve the coalition's standing inside Syria.
"Tumeh has an excellent relationship with a wide spectrum of
Syrians. He has good reports internally. He's the right person
for generating support for the government. The current situation
is very chaotic - you need to bring law and order," Safi said.
Tumeh was imprisoned from 2007 to 2010 along with 11
opposition members who had demanded that Assad embark on
democratic change in a country ruled by his family since 1970.