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Syria's suspension from Arab League takes effect

November 16, 2011 |  2:34 pm

A rally in Damascus Wednesday in support Syrian President Bashar Assad
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Arab foreign ministers on Wednesday gave Syria three days to cease what one official called its “bloody repression” against its people or face economic sanctions, the latest sign of President Bashar Assad's growing isolation.

The move came after Syria’s humiliating suspension from the Arab League took effect.

The 22-member organization had decided Saturday that it would suspend Syria by Wednesday if it did not implement a league-brokered peace plan. It was an unusually robust action by an alliance often criticized in the past as feckless and irrelevant.

Sheik Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar, said at a news conference after a meeting Wednesday in Rabat, Morocco, that Arab states had “reached the end of the line” with the “bloody repression” by Assad's government against dissidents, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported.

Syria, which has called the suspension illegal and a product of U.S. pressure, boycotted the Morocco meetings, its chair sitting empty. Syria is a founding member of the Arab League and considers itself “the beating heart of Arab nationalism.”

The league’s decision to suspend Syria was a blow to its national prestige and prompted mass demonstrations by Assad loyalists, some of whom attacked the diplomatic missions of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and France.

On Wednesday, France recalled its ambassador from Damascus, and there were reports of fresh attacks on other missions, including the embassies of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. Syria has apologized for the earlier attacks and vowed to beef up security at foreign missions.

Arab ministers have accused Syria of failing to implement the peace plan, which includes a cease-fire, the release of prisoners and a dialogue with the opposition.

Damascus maintains that it is implementing the blueprint and has released more than 1,600 prisoners. The league plans to send an observer mission to Syria to ensure that its peace road map is being followed.

Assad has found himself ever more isolated as Arab nations and former allies such as Turkey have assailed his handling of the crisis, while international sanctions and unrest have battered the country's economy.

Some fear Syria, strategically situated in the heart of the Middle East, could be sliding toward civil war as clashes between security forces and armed rebels appear to be on the increase. The opposition says November could be the bloodiest month since the revolt began in mid-March, with the number killed by security forces approaching 400.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell. Alexandra Sandels contributed reporting.

Photo: Syrians shout slogans in support of President Bashar Assad's regime during a rally in Damascus on Wednesday against the country's suspension from the Arab League. Credit: Louai Beshara / AFP/Getty Images

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