STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - About 80 representatives of Syrian opposition groups met for talks in Sweden on Saturday in a quest to unify efforts to unseat autocratic President Bashar al-Assad, whose military has been trying to crush months of popular unrest.
The meeting included the chairman of the recently formed National Council, as well as representatives from inside Syria.
“The goal is to coordinate the efforts of the whole of the Syrian opposition in the face of this regime,” organization chairman Bourhan Ghalioun told Reuters at the conference center in countryside outside the Swedish capital.
He said the meeting, set to run through Sunday and hosted by the Palme Center, a democracy and rights organization, aimed to arrive at a “Stockholm Action Plan”.
The Council came together a week ago in Istanbul and included the Muslim Brotherhood, the Damascus Declaration — which is the main grouping of established opposition figures — and grassroots activists.
The United Nations says more than 2,900 people, including 100 children, have been killed in six months of protests. The figure does not include people who have disappeared.
The 46-year-old Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, blames the violence on armed gangs backed by foreign forces, while his officials say 700 police and soldiers have been killed, as well as 700 “mutineers”.
The authorities have dismissed the opposition organizing outside Syria as a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife.
Ghalioun said the opposition’s goal was the peaceful removal of the Assad government and that the international community had to do more to help this come about.
“We demand that the international community assume its responsibilities and find ways to protect Syrian civilians,” he added, sharply criticizing Russia for helping block a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria.
“It is scandalous that Russia accepts or even encourages ... the Syrian regime to continue its violence against the Syrian people. I think that the democratic community has not done enough to oblige the Russians and the Syrians to respect Syrian human rights,” he said.
Russia and China, which with the United States are veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, blocked a European-drafted resolution urging Syria to halt its six-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.