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Assad foe tells Syrian leader to cede power to officials

Former leader of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Moaz al-Khatib attends a joint news conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manue
Former leader of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Moaz al-Khatib attends a joint news conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manue

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Syrian opposition leader urged President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday to hand power to his deputy or his prime minister and then go abroad with 500 members of his entourage, without immunity from prosecution.

Assad is likely to reject or ignore the 16-point peace plan proposed by Moaz Alkhatib, who resigned as head of the Western-backed opposition National Coalition in March, particularly given recent military gains by his forces against rebels.

However, Alkhatib's proposal shows a willingness to work with people associated with Assad throughout the revolt and will be seen as stretching out a hand to members of the government.

It is unclear if Alkhatib's proposal will win support from other Syrian opposition figures gathering in Istanbul on Thursday to decide how to respond to a U.S.-Russian proposal to convene peace talks involving Assad's government next month.

The Sunni Muslim cleric's plan, posted on his Facebook page, calls on Assad to step down in favor of Prime Minister Wael al-Halki or Vice-President Farouq al-Shara, a veteran politician who has kept a low profile since the revolt began in March 2011, prompting opposition claims last year that he planned to defect.

Alkhatib said Assad should respond within 20 days and that he should then be given a month to dissolve parliament. Once Assad had ceded power, his government should stay in office for 100 days and restructure the military before handing over to a transitional government "which should be agreed upon and negotiated within the framework of international assurances".

Assad and his father before him have ruled Syria for four decades. He has vowed to defeat what he calls the "terrorists" behind an uprising that began with months of peaceful protests. His violent response eventually ignited an armed revolt.

More than 80,000 people have been killed in what is now a full-scale civil war that has dragged in Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas and is spilling into other neighboring countries.

Assad, who succeeded his father in 2000, has shown no readiness to leave power, telling an interviewer this month that he would run for another term in an election due in 2014.

Alkhatib's plan calls on the Syrian leader to leave the country with 500 of his chosen supporters, and their families, but offers them no legal immunity from prosecution.

The initiative also calls for the release of all political prisoners and opening Syria up to all types of humanitarian relief, something the government has tightly controlled.

(Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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