Middle East

Jordan's king calls on Syria's Assad to step down

  • 14 November 2011
  • From the section Middle East
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Jordan's king has become the first Arab leader to openly say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should stand down.

King Abdullah told the BBC that if he were in Mr Assad's position, he would make sure "whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status quo".

He urged President Assad to begin talks on an orderly transition of power.

Many Arab leaders have condemned the crackdown on months of protests in Syria. Dozens of deaths are reported in the latest unrest on Monday.

Both the Saudi and Qatari ambassadors left Damascus in protest at the repression. The Arab League voted on Saturday to suspend Syria's membership.

However King Abdullah went further than other Arab leaders in his exclusive interview with BBC World News television.

"If Bashar has the interest of his country [at heart] he would step down, but he would also create an ability to reach out and start a new phase of Syrian political life," he said.

"That's the only way I would see it work and I don't think people are asking that question," he added.

King Abdullah warned there would be "more of the same" if whoever replaced President Assad did not change the status quo.

Defiance

Jordan, which borders Syria, has been increasingly critical of the crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Many Western powers have urged President Assad to stand down.

Both the EU and the US have said he has lost legitimacy but have ruled out military intervention.

The European Union on Monday tightened sanctions on Syria.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels added 18 Syrian officials to a list of people affected by a travel ban and asset freeze.

The ministers also approved moves to prevent Syria getting funds from the European Investment Bank.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he hoped the UN would finally impose its own sanctions on Syria.

Russia and China last month vetoed a Western-sponsored resolution condemning Damascus.

Earlier on Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem reacted defiantly to the Arab League's suspension. He said the decision was illegal and vowed to overcome "conspiracies" against Damascus.

The Arab League is set to hold another meeting to discuss Syria on Wednesday.

Russia on Monday condemned the suspension. "Someone really does not want the Syrians to agree among themselves," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow.

In the latest violence, the Local Co-ordination Committees - a network of opponents to President Assad's rule - said 40 people had been killed on Monday, including 20 in the restive southern province of Deraa.

There are also reports that about 20 members of the security forces were killed in a clash with defectors from the Syrian army.

Such claims are impossible to verify as the Syrian government has severely restricted access for foreign journalists.

The UN says more than 3,500 people have died since the start of the protests in March while the Syrian authorities blame the violence on terrorists.