Syrian ‘national dialogue’ conference boycotted by angry opposition

Vice-president says talks will lead to ‘the transformation of Syria’, but dissidents refuse to attend while crackdown continues

Nidaa Hassan in Damascus and Julian Borger

Syrian vice-president Farouk al-Sharaa
The Syrian vice-president Farouk al-Sharaa, centre, at the national dialogue meeting in Damascus which he claimed could lead to ‘the transformation of Syria into a pluralistic, democratic state’. Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images
Opposition leaders boycotted a “national dialogue” conference on reform with Syria’s ruling Ba’ath party on Sunday, vowing not to meet the regime while protesters were still being killed in the streets.
Opening the two-day conference, Syria’s vice-president, Farouk al-Sharaa, portrayed it as a potential turning point in the country’s political history.
“We hope that it will lead to … the transformation of Syria into a pluralistic, democratic state where its citizens are equal,” Sharaa told delegates at the Sahara hotel in Damascus.
But the 200 delegates consisted mainly of Ba’ath party members, intellectuals close to the regime and independent parliamentarians. Opposition figures, activists in the Local Co-ordinating Committees (LCC) who represent protesters and exiled dissidents, said they rejected email invitations due to the continuing killing and lack of trust in the regime’s promises to reform.
“While the regime is meeting – and that is what today was – there are funerals in other cities and people continue to be killed and arrested,” said Razan Zeitouneh, a lawyer and LCC member in Damascus.
Human rights groups say at least 1,500 civilians and 350 security force members have been killed since Syria’s uprising started in mid-March and thousands more have been detained.
The conference was organised to discuss short-term reforms, such as a review of the restrictive media laws, and to draw up a political road map to democracy, but the government has not said how long that process should take.

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