Cairo: Protesters call on Arab League to act on Syria

Arab FMs meet to discuss violence of Assad regime; activists call on League to freeze Syria's membership, but diplomats say most likely action is harsher condemnation, request for Syria to allow in foreign observers.

November 12, 2011 14:39
3 minute read.
Anti-Assad protesters outside Arab League meeting

Anti Assad Protest in Cairo 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

CAIRO - Protesters lay burial shrouds outside the Arab League's headquarters in Cairo on Saturday to symbolize the thousands killed in Syria's uprising and shame Arab governments into action to try to stop the violence.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has pressed ahead with a military crackdown on the unrest despite an Arab peace plan brokered on Nov. 2 and his opponents hope an indignant Arab League will now suspend Syria's membership.

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Diplomats attending an emergency meeting of the League on Saturday say the most likely outcome is a harsher condemnation and a request for Syria to allow in foreign observers, but say the regional body will stop short of suspending Syria.

The United Nations says 3,500 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on the protests.

As Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo, some 100 protesters shouted "Bashar goes out, Syria is free" and waved flags and banners reading: "The people want international protection".

"Bashar is a butcher who is doomed to fail. Enough silence over what is happening," said demonstrator Safaa Youssef, a 25-year-old Yemeni woman studying in Cairo. "We are here to help rescue our Syrian brethren who are dying every day."

Tayser Bayrs, a Syrian opposition activist who fled to Egypt five months ago, said he was still hopeful that the Arab League would freeze Syria's membership.

"The revolution will win at the end. We are sure of that," he said.

Since the Arab peace deal, Syrian security forces have killed more than 100 people in Homs, Human Rights Watch said on Friday, calling for the Arab League to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Syria condemns US 'provocation'

Syria's government still says it will implement the Arab peace plan.

The head of Syria's Arab League delegation, Youssef el-Ahmed, said the army had begun withdrawing from cities and condemned the United States for what he called "provocative interference" in his country's internal affairs.

"We ask your generous council to take a clear position today to reject all statements and actions of some countries and foreign parties whose aim is for the bloodshed and violence in Syria to continue," Ahmed said in a statement on Saturday.

The crackdown has dragged on for seven months despite sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and others on Assad, his relatives and key aides.

Arab countries avoided any public pronouncements on Syria in the first months of the uprising, sparked by wider political upheaval that has removed the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The conservative monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain -- all rivals of Syria's ally Iran -- were among the first to break the silence and withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus. Libya's new rulers have declared support for the Syrian opposition.

Lebanon, Yemen and Algeria are most opposed to confronting Assad, diplomats say, but other Arab governments also worry how their own restive populations would respond if he were forced to change course or even removed from power.

Diplomats were playing down the likelihood that Assad's neighbours would present him with an ultimatum any time soon.

"The solution to the Syrian crisis has to be political and will not be reached in a short period but will take a long time," a diplomat at the League told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

He would not be drawn on whether the League could freeze Syria's membership or call for United Nations intervention.

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