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Associated Press
First row from left to right, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.N-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.N. Acting Director General Michael Moeller, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attend a plenary session meeting on ending the crisis in Syria in Montreux, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Gary Cameron, Pool)

Syrian opposition says Assad must be ousted

– The head of Syria’s Western-backed opposition says any discussion of President Bashar Assad staying in power will effectively end peace talks before they have begun.

Ahmad al-Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, said the purpose of the peace conference beginning Wednesday in Switzerland was to set up a transitional government.

He said “this is the only topic for us,” speaking minutes after Assad’s foreign minister.

The peace talks in the Swiss city of Montreux marked the first time the opposition and the Syrian government will sit down face to face since their dispute began in March 2011.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Syria’s foreign minister, directly addressing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, says no one has the right to remove Bashar Assad except Syrians.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem addressed the Wednesday opening of a peace conference on Syria just after Kerry, who said Assad had lost the legitimacy to lead and would have no place in a transitional government.

Al-Moallem also refused to give up the podium to Ban Ki-moon, telling the U.N. chief: “You live in New York, I live in Syria.”