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Syrian activist group threatens to withdraw from opposition council in new sign of divisions
BEIRUT (AP) ' A key activist group on Thursday accused Syria's opposition council of drifting away from the spirit of the country's revolution, dealing a further blow to a body already facing major political and organizational challenges in its quest to oust President Bashar Assad.
The activist group, called the Local Coordination Committees, threatened to suspend its membership in the Syrian National Council if its concerns are not addressed.
"We have seen nothing in the past months except political incompetence in the SNC and a total lack of consensus between its vision and that of the revolutionaries," the LCC statement said.
Since its inception last September, the Syrian National Council has acted as the international face of the Syrian revolution and served as a reference point for Western leaders when it comes to the Syrian opposition. If it continues to deteriorate, it could complicate efforts for the West and others to get behind the opposition.
Fifteen months into the uprising, Syria's opposition is still struggling to overcome infighting and inexperience, preventing the movement from gaining the traction it needs to present a credible alternative to Assad. Its international backers have repeatedly appealed for the movement to pull together and work as one unit.
The U.N. estimated in March that the violence in Syria has killed more than 9,000 people. Hundreds more have been killed since then as a revolt that began with mostly peaceful calls for reform transforms into an armed insurgency.
The SNC, whose leaders are largely Syrian exiles, has tried with little success to gather the opposition under its umbrella and has alienated minorities inside Syria, including the Kurds and Alawites. Some opposition figures accuse its leadership of spending too much time in airplanes and being out of touch with reality on the ground while several prominent dissidents have already quit the SNC, calling it an "autocratic" organization.
In Thursday's statement, the LCC ' a network of activists based both inside and outside of Syria ' accused the SNC leadership of marginalizing council members and acting alone on major decisions.
The LCC said the council has "drifted away from the spirit of the Syrian revolution in its quest for a civil and democratic state based on the principles of transparency and transfer of power."
In a rare acknowledgment of shortcomings, a leading figure inside the council said the group needed an overhaul and should become more inclusive.
Bassma Kodmani, a Paris-based senior figure in the council, said over the telephone Thursday that the LCC concerns were "justified and legitimate." She acknowledged this week's opposition meeting in Rome during which Burhan Ghalioun was re-elected for a third, three-month term as head of the SNC, was marred by the absence of several members and should have been better prepared and organized. She did not elaborate.
But Kodmani also said differences within the Syrian opposition were "natural and healthy" and a sign of democracy, "otherwise we would be just like the Baath Party and the Assad regime."
Ghalioun, a Sunni Muslim professor at the Sorbonne in Paris who has led the council since its formation in September, has been criticized by some opposition figures of being too close to the Muslim Brotherhood and of trying to monopolize power..
Ghalioun ran against George Sabra, a Christian council member seen by many as a better choice to soothe concerns by Syria's religious minorities, some of whom have remained loyal to Assad out of fear for their future in case his regime collapses.
In a televised interview following his re-election, Ghalioun acknowledged divisions within the SNC and said the group was working on a new strategy.
Unlike Libya's National Transitional Council, which brought together most factions against Moammar Gadhafi's regime and was quickly recognized by much of the international community, Syria's opposition has no leadership on the ground and has not been officially recognized by significant powers.
A conference sponsored by the Arab League in Cairo to help unite the disparate opposition was canceled this week, largely because of infighting between various groups.