CAIRO - The Arab League on Tuesday condemned the use of force against pro-democracy protesters in several Arab countries, saying they "deserve support, not bullets."

In a rare statement on the unrest sweeping across the Middle East, the 22-member Arab League said it would ask foreign ministers to discuss this "serious situation" during a meeting scheduled for next month.

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"The people's demands for freedom and democracy are demands that require support ... not bullets in the chests of demonstrators," the Arab League said in the statement, received by Reuters on Tuesday.

"We call on Arab regimes and governments to commit to and speed up reforms, immediately stop using force against demonstrators and spare their citizens bloodshed."

The statement did not single out any Arab country but said the uprisings that toppled autocratic rulers in Tunisia and Egypt and protests in Syria, Libya and Yemen "point to a new Arab era ... led by youths seeking a better present and a brighter future".

The statement said Arab foreign ministers would meet in Cairo next month to discuss the unrest, but gave no exact date. Egypt's state news agency MENA said the meeting would be held on May 8.

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