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Opposite groups unite against Assad

Syria's two largest opposition groups have signed an agreement on setting up a democracy after President Bashar Assad's regime falls, opposition figures say.

The move is the most serious so far by the fractured opposition to unite against the regime and shows that Mr Assad's opponents will accept nothing less than his departure from power.

Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC), and Haytham Manna, of the National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, or NCB, signed the draft in Cairo, Egypt, last night, according to an NCB statement and Omar Idilbi of the SNC.

Syria's uprising began in March, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts. The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died as the government has sought to crush the revolt.

On Tuesday, scores of Arab monitors, the first that Syria has allowed into the country during the uprising, began their work on the ground visiting hot spots around the country.

They are supposed to ensure the regime complies with terms of the Cairo-based 22-member Arab League's plan to end Mr Assad's crackdown on dissent. Despite the observers' presence, regime forces went on with the crackdown killing at least 27 people yesterday.

The draft says both groups reject any foreign military intervention in Syria and call for the protection of civilians by all legitimate means in the framework of international laws.

It also says that as soon as the Assad regime falls a "transitional period" will begin by preserving all state institutions and then drafting a new constitution that guarantees a "civilian pluralist parliamentary democratic system" after which a parliament and new president are elected.

The draft also says that all Syrian citizens are equal and the country's Kurdish minority is a "fundamental and historic" part of Syria's national structure. It also calls for "liberating Syrian territory", an apparent reference to the Golan Heights occupied by Israel since 1967.

The two umbrella groups, the SNC and NCB, arose after the revolt began in March as activists and the opposition tried to organise their ranks against Assad. The national council has been the more active of the two abroad, with Mr Ghalioun meeting international leaders in a bid to build support. The NCB has organised opposition conferences inside Syria, suggesting it has a stronger presence on the ground.

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