Monday, May 30, 2011

Syrian businessmen back opposition conference

Inclusion of business community at conference in Turkey shows cracks in its support for President Bashar al-Assad

Lauren Williams in Beirut, Monday 30 May 2011

"Key business figures in Syria are aligning themselves with opposition groups before a conference in Turkey on Tuesday in a sign that Syria's traditionally pro-regime business elite may be beginning to break ranks with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

About 300 opposition figures are expected to arrive in Antalya, southern Turkey, for the three-day Syrian Conference for Change, designed to establish dialogue between opposition groups with a view to establishing a transitional council.

However, as a bloody crackdown against anti-regime protests continued, with Syrian activists reporting troops had bombarded a town in the central province of Homs with artillery on Sunday, it is clear sharp divisions exist among the fledgling opposition.

Until now, the Syrian uprising has largely manifested itself at street level with support from activists abroad as disaffected and marginalised classes call for personal freedoms and an end to corruption and poverty at the hands of the elite.

Organised by the Egypt-based National Organisation for Human Rights, the Turkey conference is being privately funded by three Syrian businessmen – Ali and Wassim Sanqar, brothers who are luxury car distributors based in Damascus, and Ammar Qurabi, chairman of the national organisation and UAE-based satellite channel Orient TV......

A pro-democracy activist and organiser, Radwan Ziadeh from the National Initiative for Change, denied the claims, saying the conference represented both secular and moderate Islamic groups.

But he acknowledged the need for religious Syrian society to be present. "We know Syrian society is very conservative. Moderate Muslims must be present."

He said leadership alternatives in Syria had been repressed. "Everyone knows that the Syrian uprising is leaderless. We need to establish some sort of balance to move ahead.

"The intended outcome is for a united opposition established on the principles of greater co-ordination inside and outside Syria."

He stressed that although Turkey sanctioned the conference, no state representatives would be present but said that any party formed should seek assistance from the Arab League and other international organisations.

"We can divide the cake later on, for now the focus is on the humanitarian issue in putting pressure on regime that has killed over 1,100 people and detained more than 11,000.""

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