DAMASCUS // Leading dissidents and opposition political parties yesterday launched a coalition for democratic change in Syria, which they say will support a popular uprising and help unite activists trying to dismantle a "corrupt, tyrannical regime".
The coalition, named the National Board of Co-ordination (NBC), issued a four-page blueprint detailing the steps it said must be taken to bring a peaceful close to an uprising that has lasted for more than three months, cost an estimated 1,400 civilian lives and threatens to plunge Syria into economic and social chaos.
Those measures include an immediate halt to a security crackdown on demonstrators, freedom for all political prisoners and credible investigations into allegations of severe abuse by security forces.
"Syrians' messages have been clear against the violence of the authorities: the time of one ruling party and one ruling person has gone," the NBC founding statement said.
It dismissed government claims to have begun a process of national dialogue and said NBC members would not take part in an officially sanctioned discussion, scheduled for July 10, unless real reforms were put into practice.
"The Syrian regime talks about dialogue only in the context of continuing under one dominant party and with a view to gain time, absorb popular anger, cover security solutions and fragment the people and national democratic opposition," the statement said.
It also called for a new constitution that would eliminate Article 8, which makes the Baath party the only organisation allowed to rule. It also calls for a democratically elected parliament, an independent judiciary and respect for human rights.
The blueprint also stressed that the number of presidential terms must be limited, presidential powers curtailed and the security services "restructured and rehabilitated" and placed under parliamentary oversight.
Crucially, the NBC did not demand the resignation of the President Bashar Al Assad, who is serving a second seven-year term. It did imply he would have to stand down in 2014 when the next presidential referendum is due to take place.
While street demonstrators have increasingly been calling for Mr Al Assad's overthrow, the Syrian president retains a strong base of support and commands a loyal military and security apparatus, making unseating him difficult.
The NBC proposed a truth-and-reconciliation mechanism for dealing with disputes against regime figures, based on "the principles of equity and tolerance, not revenge".
Leading Syrian dissidents, including Aref Dalila, Fayez Sara, Michel Kilo, Hasan Abdul Azeem and Hussein Oudat, have signed up to the NBC. Syrian opposition parties, mainly socialists and 11 Kurdish groups, are also part of the initiative.
The NBC's blueprint, designed to offer a coherent, step-by-step political programme transitioning to democracy, is being circulated to activists.
The organisers hope it will act as a basis for uniting protesters and attracting the support of Syria's silent majority, which has thus far refrained from joining anti-government or pro-government demonstrations.
Yesterday's meeting of NBC members in Damascus for the launch of their platform comes after a gathering of independent dissidents at a hotel in the city on Monday, the first opposition conference of its kind in decades.