Arab League suspends Syria, demands end to killing

CAIRO, (Reuters) – The Arab League suspended Syria  and called on its army to stop killing civilians in a surprise  move today that turned up the heat on President Bashar  al-Assad.
The League will impose economic and political sanctions on  Assad’s government and has appealed to member states to withdraw  their ambassadors from Damascus, said Qatar’s Prime Minister  Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. It will also call a meeting of  Syrian opposition parties, he said.
“We were criticised for taking a long time but this was out  of our concern for Syria,” Sheikh Hamad told reporters in Cairo.  “We needed to have a majority to approve those decisions.”
Hopes among Western powers that Assad would be isolated by  his Arab neighbours were repeatedly dashed until now.
Some Arab leaders have been reluctant to turn against one of  their peers given the message it might send to their own restive  populations, diplomats say.
But Assad has pressed ahead with the crackdown on protesters  against his rule despite an Arab peace plan brokered on Nov. 2.  The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed  in seven months of violence.
“We are calling all Syrian opposition parties to a meeting  at the Arab League headquarters to agree a unified vision for  the transitional period,” said Sheikh Hamad, who is also Qatar’s  foreign minister.
He said the suspension of Syria from the regional body would  take effect on Nov. 16, but did not detail the sanctions.
Qatar chairs the Cairo-based Arab League.
“We ask the Arab Syrian Army to not be involved in the  violent actions and killing of civilians,” Sheikh Hamad said,  quoting from an Arab League statement.
Syria’s representative to the Arab League said suspending  Damascus violated the organisation’s charter and showed it was  “serving a Western and American agenda”.
Youssef Ahmed told Syrian state television the move to  suspend Syria could only be taken by consensus at a summit  meeting of Arab leaders.

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