Syria Opposition Meeting Devolves Into Fistfight

07/03/2012 03:20 pm ET | Updated Sep 02, 2012

CAIRO, July 3 (Reuters) - A meeting of Syria's splintered opposition in Cairo on Tuesday descended into scuffles and fistfights that will dishearten Western leaders calling for unity against Bashar al-Assad.

A Syrian Kurdish group quit the meeting, sparking mayhem and cries of "scandal, scandal" from some delegates. Women wept as men traded blows, and staff of the hotel used for the meeting hurriedly removed tables and chairs as the scuffles spread.

"The Kurds withdrew because the conference rejected an item that says the Kurdish people must be recognised," said Abdel Aziz Othman of the National Kurdish Council. "This is unfair and we will no longer accept to be marginalised."

Sixteen months into an uprising against Assad, the failure to rally Syria's disparate religious and ethnic groups behind a united leadership will make it more difficult to secure international recognition.

"This is so sad. It will have a bad implications for all parties. It will make the Syrian opposition look bad and demoralise the protesters on the ground," said an opposition activist, 27-year-old Gawad al-Khatib.

Assad has clung on far longer than other Arab leaders who faced popular uprisings, in part due to his willingness to use overwhelming force but also because of divisions among his population, the opposition and the international community.

Russia, Syria's longtime ally, opposes U.N. action proposed by Western powers. The United States and European powers have themselves shown no appetite for military intervention of the kind they used in Libya.

A diplomat from the meeting's host, the Arab League, said the often "chaotic" opposition had made progress by agreeing on documents outlining principles to shape a new constitution and guide any transition. (Reporting by Yasmine Saleh; Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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