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Syrian opposition elects Hitto as provisional premier

Syrian Opposition Coalition members and Syrian National Coalition members attend a meeting in Istanbul March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Syrian Opposition Coalition members and Syrian National Coalition members attend a meeting in Istanbul March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The opposition Syrian National Coalition chose Western-educated former businessman Ghassan Hitto as provisional prime minister in a vote on Tuesday at a meeting in Istanbul.

Hitto, who according to a Reuters witness received 35 votes of around 50 cast by coalition members, will be in charge of forming a government to fill a power vacuum in Syria arising from a two-year-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

"I give great thanks to the heroes and revolutionaries of the Syrian people. We are with you," Hitto told coalition members in brief remarks after he was named.

Several senior coalition members, including tribal leader Ahmad Jarba and veteran opposition campaigners Walid al-Bunni and Kamal al-Labwani withdrew from the session before the vote to protest what they described as a hasty foreign-backed push to chose Hitto.

But Hitto's supporters argued that their man was a qualified manager untainted by the coalition's internal political struggles.

"A near consensus emerged on Hitto. He is a practical man with management experience and is open to debate. He promised to consult widely before naming ministers and only appoint those with a long experience," said Mohammad Qaddah, the coalition's representative from Deraa, cradle of the two-year uprising.

Louay Safi, another coalition member, said Hitto is expected to form a government that includes defense and foreign ministers as well as a main focus on service portfolios.

"Basically this government is going to provide services to liberated areas," Safi said. Hitto has the technical abilities that you expect from the technocrat but he also has a sense of politics and is a very good negotiator. He would be a good representative to the international community."

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Michael Roddy and Eric Walsh)

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