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Syrian coalition to name envoy to France: Hollande

France's President Francois Hollande listens as a guest speaks in the courtyard following a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, November
France's President Francois Hollande listens as a guest speaks in the courtyard following a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, November

PARIS (Reuters) - Syria's new opposition bloc is to appoint an envoy to France, French President Francois Hollande said after meeting the head of the Syrian National Coalition on Saturday.

France is one of the harshest critics of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose military crackdown on a 20-month-old uprising against his rule has killed 38,000 people, according to activists, and risks sucking in neighboring countries.

A French diplomatic source said the envoy would act as a representative of the coalition, becoming ambassador once a provisional government is established and recognized internationally.

"There will be a Syrian ambassador in France who will be appointed by the president of the coalition," Hollande told reporters.

He invited coalition head Mouaz Alkhatib for talks in Paris after France became the first European power to recognize the group as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

Alkhatib said the role of ambassador would be taken on by Monzir Makhous, part of the delegation meeting with Hollande at the Elysee Palace.

Makhous' offices would be in a location separate from the existing Syrian embassy, which "doesn't belong to France", Hollande added. While the Syrian embassy in Paris remains open, there is no longer a recognized ambassador in place.

Hollande said he expected many countries would follow France's lead by recognizing the Syrian National Coalition, which came out of a deal struck in Qatar on November 11 bringing together fragmented Syrian opposition groups.

The French president said on Tuesday that France recognized the coalition as the future government of a democratic Syria. He added that the question of arming the rebels would be considered once a transitional government was formed.

Alkhatib this week called on European states to grant political recognition to the coalition and give it financial support as it seeks to topple Assad.

Other Western countries are holding back, uneasy over the presence of radical Islamists among the rebels and accusations by U.N. investigators of war crimes committed by rebel fighters.

Britain said on Friday that while it would like to recognize the coalition formally "at an early stage", it needed first to have more assurances on its plans.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged the coalition to set out a credible plan for political transition and widen its support among the Syrian people.

Hollande said on Saturday that Alkhatib had demonstrated there was a will to unite all parts of the Syrian people and that there would be an integrated military command structure to "liberate" the country.

European foreign and defense ministers are due to meet on Monday to discuss Syria.

Syria's civil war grew out of peaceful, Arab Spring-inspired mass protests against Assad in March last year.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and John Irish; Writing by James Regan; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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