Syria peace conference kicks off in Switzerland
MONTREUX - The Syrian opposition leader Wednesday called on President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to a transitional government, as UN-led peace talks opened in Switzerland.
"I call on (the regime delegation) to immediately sign the Geneva 1 communique (setting out) the transfer of powers from Assad, including for the army and security, to a transition government," Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, told the delegations gathered in the city of Montreux.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem dubbed the country's opposition "traitors" and foreign "agents".
"They claim to represent the Syrian people. If you want to speak in the name of the Syrian people, you should not be traitors to the Syrian people, agents in the pay of enemies of the Syrian people," Muallem said in a strongly-worded speech.
He fired a broadside at the Gulf monarchies which back the revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which began after a crackdown on peaceful Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011 and has morphed into a sectarian war.
"It is regrettable to me and to the people of Syria that representatives of states in this room are sitting with us today, while blood is on their hands -- countries that have sent weapons ... encouraged and financed terrorism," Muallem said.