November 23, 2017 / 3:51 PM / 8 months ago

Syria opposition meeting in Riyadh sees no role for Assad in political transition

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syria’s main opposition stuck by its demand on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad play no role in an interim period under any U.N.-sponsored peace deal, despite speculation it could soften its stance because of Assad’s battlefield strength.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as seen in Damascus, Syria November 14, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

“The participants stressed that this (the transition) cannot happen without the departure of Bashar al Assad and his clique at the start of the interim period,” opposition groups said in a communique at the end of a meeting in Saudi Arabia.

The opposition groups held the meeting to seek a unified position ahead of U.N.-backed peace talks, after two year of Russian military intervention that has helped Assad’s government recapture all of Syria’s major cities.

The communique said the participants supported a U.N. based political process that would allow Syria to undergo “a radical political transition” from an “authoritarian system” to a democracy where free elections would be upheld.

The meeting of over 140 participants from a broad spectrum of the mainstream opposition, including independents and Free Syrian Army military factions, also blamed the Syrian government for the lack of progress in Geneva-based talks held in the past.

“The political process has not achieved its goal because of the regime’s violations,” the communique said, citing the bombing of civilian areas, the siege of rebel held areas and the detention of tens of thousands of dissidents.

Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created the world’s worst refugee crisis, driving more than 11 million people from their homes.

There had been speculation that the opposition could soften its demands that Assad leave power before any transition at the meeting. Riyad Hijab, an opposition hardliner who led the High Negotiations Committee that represented the opposition at previous rounds of negotiations, abruptly quit this week.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Peter Graff

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