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Syria to open 'national dialogue' with opposition - Mr007 - 10-07-2011 09:48

Anti-government demonstrators march through the streets after Friday prayers in Hajar al-Asswad in Damascus - 8 July 2011 Anti-government protests have been taking place across Syria since mid-March

The Syrian government is due to hold a two-day meeting with members of the ruling Baath party and its opponents.

The government says the Damascus meeting will begin discussion of possible reforms, including multi-party elections and a new media law.

But organisers of anti-government protests say they will not attend.

Rights groups estimate that more than 1,750 people, including 350 security personnel, have been killed as the government tries to quell the protests.

The government has blamed "armed criminal gangs" for the unrest, which began in mid-March as protests swept other nations in the Middle East and North Africa.

State media say Baath party officials, opposition figures, independents, academics and youth activists will be at this first "national dialogue".

This initial meeting is due to last two days and set up a process, the timeframe of which has not yet been established.

When President Bashar al-Assad first announced the dialogue last month he said he wanted a comprehensive process that would deal with the different issues facing the Syrian people.

The credibility of the national dialogue process will depend to a large extent on which opposition figures participate, says the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Beirut.

International journalists have been denied access to Syria.

Organisers of the anti-government protest movement in Syria gave the slogan No Dialogue Friday to the demonstrations two days ago.

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