Syria's main opposition picks Ahmad Assi Jarba as new leader

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Syria's main opposition on Saturday elected Mr Ahmad Assi Jarba to lead the movement which groups opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, spokesman Khaled Saleh said.

Mr 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.

He edged out the group's secretary general Mustafa al-Sabbagh, who obtained 52 votes in the second round of balloting at the group's meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

The opposition had been rudderless since the departure in May of Mr 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 - Mr Suheir Atassi, Mr Mohammed Farouk Tayfur and Mr Salim Muslit.

Mr Badr Jamous was voted secretary general of the umbrella organisation recognised by dozens of states and organisations as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Mr Saleh said Mr Jarba would not make a statement on Saturday "due to the gravity of

the situation in Homs", the central Syrian city which was suffering an eighth straight day of assault from Mr Assad's troops.

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