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November 15, 2011

Abdullah on Syria: 'I would step down'

King Abdullah of Jordan urges Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and allow for the creation of a new political environment in Syria. (UPI/John Angelillo)
King Abdullah of Jordan, Monday called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down in the interest of his country. He said he would do so in a similar situation. "I believe, if I were in his shoes, I would step down," the monarch told BBC World News. "I would step down and make sure whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status quo that we're seeing." Syria, meanwhile, called for an urgent meeting following an Arab League vote to suspend Syria's membership for failing to end its crackdown on anti-regime protesters. Syria asked that the meeting be held before Wednesday's planned suspension and imposition of sanctions, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported. Abdullah, a harsh critic of the Syrian government's brutal response to popular uprisings, said Assad should "create an ability to reach out" and begin a new phase of political life in Syria because right now, Syria's system doesn't allow for that. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem denounced the Arab League action as a "dangerous step" pushed by the United States, the BBC said. He said Syria would not budge from what he called its strong positions and any "plots" against it would fail. In Brussels, European foreign ministers were expected to tighten sanctions against Syria. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has said it was time to see how Syria's civilian population could be better protected and said he hoped the U.N. Security Council would finally take a position on the matter. The emergency call came after several thousand Syrians attacked the embassies and consulates of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and France following Saturday's suspension announcement. Turkey sent planes to evacuate its diplomats' families Sunday, and all targeted countries condemned the attacks in the strongest possible language, vowing to hold Syria responsible for the security and protection of their interests in Syria. The attacks appeared government sponsored, the British newspaper The Guardian reported. Qatar led the push to suspend Syria's league membership, The New York Times reported, and Saudi Arabia was instrumental in nudging reluctant countries to go along with the majority, opposition figures said. Turkey and France are not league members, but have been vocal in their condemnation of the Assad regime's crackdown, which the United Nations says has led to more than 3,500 deaths. Syrian opposition figures met in Turkey last month to form the Syrian National Council, which has emerged as the most prominent opposition group abroad. France, which ruled Syria in the early part of the 20th century, called the embassy attacks "an attempt to intimidate the international community" and said Sunday it "particularly" condemned "the destruction of the Saudi Arabian Embassy," pledging "solidarity with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it does with all targeted countries." The suspension followed the collapse of a league peace plan under which Syria agreed to withdraw its forces from cities and towns, halt violence against protesters and enter negotiations in Cairo with the opposition. But after the Nov. 2 agreement, Syria has seen some of the bloodiest days since the uprising began March 15, with activists saying more than 260 people were killed, including at least 23 people Sunday. Most deaths were in the western Syrian city of Homs, 100 miles north of the capital Damascus. Four of the dead Sunday were killed by security forces for chanting slogans against Assad at a pro-government rally in the west-central city of Hama, activists said.

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