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SYRIA: Some Syrians decry Arab League chief's visit with Assad

September 10, 2011 |  9:28 am

ARAB LEAGUE MEETING

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, visited Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday in an effort to end the bloody crackdown on anti-regime protesters that has gripped Syria for months and led to international condemnation.

Elaraby was supposed to visit Damascus on Wednesday but was asked by Syrian officials to postpone his visit. On that day, security forces carried out a military offensive on the central restive city of Homs, killing at least 20 people.

The Arab League has been more or less soft in its criticism of Assad during the five-month-long clampdown, which has according to the United Nations left more than 2,000 dead. The Syrian president has largely ignored international pressure to rein in his security forces.

According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, Assad and Elaraby agreed on certain steps for reform to be taken in Syria. 

Elaraby "asserted that the Arab League cared deeply about the safety and stability, rejected foreign interference in Syrian internal affairs, and promised to stand by Syria during this difficult time," SANA reported. 

Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and the president's media advisor, Bouthaina Shaaban, were also present at the meeting. Syrian pro-democracy protesters expressed dissatisfaction with Elaraby's visit, finding the Arab League too passive in embracing revolutions and pro-democracy movements that have shaken the region in what is called the Arab Spring.

"They criticize us about asking for foreign assistance and foreign protection, but can they blame us? Look at our own Arab leaders and our own politicians, they are on the sidelines. They don't care. They would sell us for cheap," said Lina, a student in Damascus. 

Friday, dubbed the day of "international protection," saw another round of popularly attended anti-regime demonstrations across several cities in Syria, which left at least 11 dead, according to the prominent activist network, the Local Coordination Committees. 

"More than 10 people die every day; this has been the bloodiest two months so far. The most the Arab League has voiced is concern. We aren't holding our breath for them to save us, said Majed, a legal activist in Homs. The city has been the scene of some of the bloodiest days in the last two weeks.

"The Arab League wants to stand next the regime to show Arab pride and solidarity. What are we? We are Arabs too and we are dying because of this police state," Majed said.

Mass protests and the defections of soldiers have carried on despite continuous impunity on the part of security forces.

"We don't care if anyone is behind us. When I began protesting five months ago I knew no one was going to help us, and especially not the Arab League. The Arab League is just as bad as our regime. The previous secretary-general was there for decades before he finally left his post," said Anwar, a shopkeeper in Hama. 

Hama was the site of one of the most controversial and higher-ranking defections to date. Two weeks ago Adnan Mohammad Bakkour resigned as attorney general of Hama in protest of the regime's clampdown on peaceful protesters.

He is allegedly in Cyprus with a officer and forensic scientist who defected. 

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-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut

Photo: Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, meets Arab League secretary-general Nabil Elaraby in Damascus on Saturday. Credit: Syrian Arab News Agency.

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