Unify to be stronger, Hague tells Syrian opposition

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged the Syrian opposition to unify to become stronger as he held his first meeting with their representatives in London on Monday.

Hague said after the talks at the Foreign Office he had reiterated that Britain wanted President Bashar al-Assad and his regime to stand down over its bloody crackdown on opposition protesters.

Such a move would be "the best thing for the future of Syria", he said.

"But I've also emphasised the importance to them of achieving a united platform and a unified body among the opposition," Hague said.

"At an extreme moment in their nation's history it is important for opposition groups to be able to put aside their own differences and come to a united view of the way forward."

Hague admitted before the meeting that Britain was not yet in a position to officially recognise the Syrian opposition because, unlike in Libya, they were not a unified force and controlled no territory in the country.

At the talks, he also stressed to the opposition figures "the importance of non-violent protest and the importance of retaining international support in this situation through non-violent protest".

Hague said he had emphasised that "democracy means not only holding elections in the future, but entrenching human rights including the rights of minorities in Syria".

Among the Syrian figures Hague met were Burhan Ghalioum, chairman of the Syrian National Council which groups together many Syrian opposition groups, and Haytham Manaa, European representative for the National Coordination Body.

Britain has designated a former ambassador to Beirut, Frances Guy, to develop contacts with the Syrian opposition.

Hague also welcomed the pressure put on Assad's regime by the Arab League and the European Union over the assault on opposition supporters which the UN believes has left more than 3,500 dead in nine months.

© 2011 AFP

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