PARIS – France on Tuesday became the first Western country to formally recognize Syria's newly formed opposition coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
The French move was announced by French President Francois Hollande, who used his first news conference since taking office six months ago to formally recognize the group.
"I announce here that France recognizes the National Syrian Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people and, therefore, as the future provisional government of democratic Syria," Hollande said.
Under intense international pressure to form an opposition that includes representatives from the country's disparate factions fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, the anti-government groups struck a deal Sunday in Doha, Qatar, to form a coalition headed by former Muslim preacher Mouaz al-Khatib.
The coalition includes representatives from the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which was harshly criticized by many, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for being cut off from rebels fighting the war on the ground and for failing to forge a cohesive and more representative leadership.
France, which has played a leading role in efforts to force Assad from power, was also the first to recognize the Syrian National Council. Hollande made no mention of that grouping on Tuesday.
France has acknowledged providing communications and other non-lethal equipment to Syrian rebels. It has been a leader in pressing for a tough U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria, but it has been blocked by Russia and China.
France also has funneled cash to local Syrian councils to help in tasks like rebuilding bombed structures such as bakeries.