LONDON – Key Syrian opposition figures on Monday urged Syrians to work to oust President Bashar Assad by using acts of civil disobedience reminiscent to the upheaval that freed nations behind the Iron Curtain.
Describing Assad's regime as oppressive and corrupt, the leaders pledged to bring democracy to Syria, which has been ruled by Assad since the death of his father, Hafez, in 2000.
"The people are fed up with the government," former Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam told The Associated Press after a conference uniting forces against Assad. "Of course they are scared. Our plan is to encourage them to get rid of this fear. ... The military is not going to get involved."
Two of the group's most prominent members are Khaddam and Ali Sadr el-Din Bayanouni, head of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Both exiled leaders forged an alliance in March after long being at odds, forming the National Salvation Front for Syria and urging the government's ouster and formation of a transitional government.
The two leaders stood shoulder to shoulder following a news conference, insisting that working together was in the best interest of Syria — whatever their past disagreements might have been.
"This is also a response to the accusations, the exaggerations of the regime, when it says that the alternative to it is chaos," Bayanouni said.
Diverse groups are represented in the front, including former members of the ruling Baath party and the outlawed Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim group blamed for a campaign of assassinations and bombings in Syria in the early 1980s that was brutally crushed by authorities in 1982.
A member of Syria's ruling elite for three decades, Khaddam broke with Assad last year and fled to Paris with his family. He said he was certain the Syrian people would support a peaceful change of government.
"We want a change of government and a democratic Syria ... like what happened in Eastern Europe through the people's will," he said, speaking through an interpreter. At one point he corrected an interpretation to insist that he wasn't advocating revolution.
Amnesty International claims that 10,000-25,000 people were killed at Hama in 1982 to put down a revolt by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, though conflicting figures exist and the number could be considerably smaller or larger than this. The Syrian government has made no official claim about the number killed.
A representative from the Kurdish minority as well as liberal and democratic groups also attended the London meeting.
The alliance has pledged that the proposed transitional government would abolish Syria's 1963 state of emergency and release all political prisoners.