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Syrian rebels agree to attend peace talks

The main Western-backed coalition of Syria's political opposition agreed to attend peace talks in Switzerland next week, which will bring together representatives of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups for the first time since the country's civil war began in 2011.

Fifty-eight of 73 voters at a meeting of the Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul backed joining the international peace conference set to open in Montreux on Wednesday, Soner Ahmed, a coalition spokesman, told Bloomberg News. Twelve abstained, two voted against participating, and one cast a blank ballot, Ahmed said.

The coalition agreed after "marathon discussions" to send a delegation to the so-called Geneva II talks, confront Assad's "terrorism," and strip him of his authority, Ahmad al-Jarba, the coalition's president, said in a speech following the vote.

"We are not weak or the minority, and the free people of the world are supporting us," Jarba said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius both welcomed the opposition alliance's decision, calling it "courageous," according to emailed statements.

The talks were at risk of collapsing amid concerns over whether the opposition could resolve internal rifts, deter the rise of radical Islamist militias and form a credible representative body.

-- Bloomberg News

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