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Syria peace plan OKd, but questions remain

GENEVA -- An international conference on Saturday accepted a UN-brokered peace plan for Syria, but left open the key question of whether the country's president could be part of a transitional government.

The United States backed away from insisting that the plan explicitly exclude President Bashar Assad from any role in a new Syrian government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown that the opposition says has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted that Assad would still have to go, saying it is now "incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall."

"There is a credible alternative to the Assad regime," she said. "What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power."

Moscow had refused to back a provision that would call for Assad to step aside, insisting that outsiders cannot order a political solution for Syria and accusing the West of ignoring the darker side of the Syrian opposition. The opposition has made clear it would not take part in a government in which Assad still held power.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that the plan does not require Assad's ouster, saying there is "no attempt in the document to impose on the Syrian people any type of transitional process."

More than a year into the uprising, Syria's opposition is still struggling to overcome infighting and inexperience, preventing the movement from gaining the traction it needs to instill confidence in its ability to govern.

The UN plan calls for establishing a transitional government of national unity, with full executive powers, that could include members of Assad's government and the opposition and other groups. It would oversee elections and the drafting of a new constitution.

Special envoy Kofi Annan said after the Geneva talks that "it is for the people of Syria to come to a political agreement."

Syria, verging on a full-blown civil war, has endured a particularly bloody week, with as many as 125 people reported killed nationwide on Thursday alone.

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