Syria’s main opposition elects new leader

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Syria’s opposition National Coalition on Saturday elected Ahmad Assi Jarba as its new president after a close runoff vote held in Istanbul, coalition members said.

Jarba, who represents the faction of veteran secular dissident Michel Kilo and who is seen as close to Saudi Arabia, obtained 55 votes in the deeply divided Syrian National Coalition, according to AFP.

He defeated businessman Mustafa Sabbagh, Qatar’s point man in the opposition. “A change was needed,” Adib Shishakly, a senior official in the coalition, told Reuters.

“The old leadership of the coalition had failed to offer the Syrian people anything substantial and was preoccupied with internal politics. Ahmad Jarba is willing to work with everybody.”

The opposition had been rudderless since the departure in May of Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib in protest at the world’s “inaction” over Syria’s civil war.

The selection of a new chief had initially been mooted for the end of May but was postponed after eight days of talks were stalled by conflicting views on the future direction of the coalition and attempts by other countries in the region to influence the outcome.

During Saturday’s vote, the 114 members of the coalition also elected three vice presidents -- Suheir Atassi, Mohammed Farouk Tayfur and Salim Muslit, according to AFP.

Badr Jamous was voted secretary general of the umbrella organization recognized by dozens of states and organizations as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Saleh said Jarba would not make a statement Saturday “due to the gravity of the situation in Homs”, the central Syrian city which was suffering an eighth straight day of assault from Assad’s troops.

(With AFP and Reuter)

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