Exiled Syrian dissidents meeting in Turkey have urged their countrymen to launch a campaign of civil disobedience to try to force President Bashar al-Assad from power.
At least 400 members of the opposition, comprising conservative Islamists and liberals, attended the so-called National Salvation Congress in Istanbul on Saturday to try to unite behind the goal of ending 41 years of Assad family rule.
Just hours after the conference got under way in Istanbul, reports came in of five deaths in shooting by security forces in Syria.
Majid, a witness in the central city of Homs, told Al Jazeera that the violence continued into the night.
“Armed thugs are randomly shooting at locals in various districts in Homs. One is reported killed and more than 20 others injured,” he said.
“Thugs are also looting local shops under the watch of security forces and there is a huge security presence in the area.”
Earlier, thousands of Syrians shouting “We want freedom” carried caskets of of some of the 32 protesters killed by security forces during Friday’s protest rallies.
Reports from the Istanbul conference suggested that different opposition factions had struggled to agree on whether to form a shadow government.
“We want to raise the intensity of the peaceful confrontation by civil disobedience and to choke the regime
economically and paralyse the state with the least damage,” Wael al-Hafez, an opposition figure, told the Istanbul gathering.
Speaking from the conference venue, Haytham Al Maleh, a senior opposition leader, told Al Jazeera: “We will build our council here in Istanbul with some branches to help the people’s movement in the streets by money for example.
“And by meeting responsible people in Turkey to put pressure on the regime to stop attacking the people demonstrating on the streets.”
Activists in Damascus also took part in Saturday’s meeting by telephone. Organisers had planned to hold a conference in Damascus in tandem with the Turkey meeting, but it was cancelled after Friday’s bloodshed.
Addressing the Istabul gathering by phone from Damascus, Mashaal Tammo, an opposition figure, said Assad had lost his legitimacy to rule and called on him to step down.
In an emotional speech, he said the “the existence of the regime was no longer justified” and called for a peaceful transition to a civil, pluralistic and democratic state.
Friday’s deaths in Syria occurred as a result of use of live ammunition and tear gas by security forces against protesters, hundreds of thousands of whom took to the streets.
Syrians poured into areas where the government’s security crackdown has been most intense. They also turned out in their thousands in the capital, Damascus, which until now had seen only scattered protests.
Of the dead, 22 were killed in Damascus and its suburbs – the highest death toll for the city so far, Mohammad Abdullah, a spokesman for the Local Co-ordination Committee (LCC), said on Saturday.
The LCC tracks anti-government demonstrations in the country.
Police killed four people in the south near the Jordanian border, Reuters reported, quoting witnessess and activists.
Three protesters were shot dead in the northern city of Idlib, they said.
The government crackdown has led to international condemnation and sanctions.
“What’s happening in Syria is very uncertain and troubling because many of us had hoped that President Assad would make the reforms that were necessary,” Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said in Turkey on Saturday.
“The brutality has to stop, there must be a legitimate sincere effort with the opposition to try to make changes.”
Activists say the government’s crackdown on dissent has killed some 1,600 people since March, most of them unarmed protesters.
But the regime disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, saying religious extremists-not true reform-seekers-are behind it.