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Syria presidential vote thrust into doubt

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 5:48 p.m.

GENEVA — Syrian President Bashar Assad's adviser on Wednesday rejected the opposition's call for a transitional governing body and suggested for the first time that a presidential election scheduled to be held later this year may not take place amid the ongoing violence.

The comments by Bouthaina Shaaban were made as U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced that the first phase of the Syria peace talks in Geneva will end on Friday, as scheduled, and that the gap between the government and the opposition remains “quite large.”

“To be blunt, I do not expect that we're going achieve anything substantial” by Friday, he said. “I'm very happy that we are still talking and that the ice is breaking slowly.”

Brahimi said both sides will decide when the second phase of the talks will take place — most likely after a one-week break.

Earlier Wednesday, both sides managed to discuss the thorniest issue: the opposition's demand for a transitional government in Syria.

But Shaaban said it would be difficult to hold a presidential election in Syria, given the fighting, and she rejected a transitional governing body.

“There's nothing in the world called transitional government. We don't mind a large government, a national unity government, but I think they invent the wrong term for our people and then they circulate it in the media,” she told AP.

The idea of a national unity government has been rejected by the opposition, which insists Assad must step down in favor of a transitional government with full executive powers.

Louay Safi, a spokesman for the opposition's negotiating team, said the issue of a transitional government was put on the table at the talks for the first time. But he added the government delegation stuck to its demand that putting an end to terrorists was still its No. 1 priority.

“Today we had a positive step forward, because for the first time, now we are talking about the transitional governing body, the body whose responsibility is to end dictatorship and move toward democracy and end the fighting and misery in Syria,” he said.

The government seems “more ready to discuss that issue, but still they're trying to push it to the back of the discussion,” Safi said.

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