Arab League votes to suspend Syria over crackdown

The New York Times reports: The Arab League moved to suspend Syria’s membership on Saturday, accusing the government of President Bashar al-Assad of defying an agreement to stop the violent repression of demonstrators, and it threatened economic and political sanctions if he did not comply.

In acting against Syria, a core member of the Arab League, the group took another bold step beyond what had been a long tradition of avoiding controversy. Alarmed by the region-spanning upheaval of the Arab Spring demonstrations, league delegates said they were trying to head off another factional war like Libya’s, in which the group took the unprecedented step of approving international intervention.

Syria’s formal suspension is to start in four days, offering what senior Arab League officials described as a last chance for Mr. Assad to carry out a peace agreement his government had accepted. The plan called for the Syrian government to halt the violence directed toward civilians, to withdraw all its security forces from civilian areas and to release tens of thousands of political prisoners.

Throughout the meeting, the Syrian ambassador, Youssef Ahmed, kept shouting that the move was illegal because such a decision had to be unanimous, participants said. He later repeated the claim on state television and accused the league of being “subordinate to American and Western agendas.” Nabil el-Araby, the Arab League’s secretary general, pushed the initiative to a vote, with 18 of the league’s 22 members supporting the action, Yemen and Lebanon opposing, Iraq abstaining and Syria not voting at all.

“We are hoping for a daring move from Syria to halt the violence and to begin a real dialogue toward real reform,” said Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, as well as the current league chairman.

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