King of Jordan calls for Syria’s leader to step down
James Kanter contributed reporting from Brussels, and Neil MacFarquhar from Cairo.
BEIRUT — King Abdullah of Jordan added his voice on Monday to the growing pressure on the president of Syria to relinquish power, becoming the first Arab leader on Syria’s doorstep to call for a change in government to end the increasingly bloody political uprising there.
The Jordanian monarch’s remarks, made in an interview with the BBC, came as Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, was still smarting from the Arab League’s unexpectedly strong rebuke over the weekend with its decision to suspend Syria’s membership. Syria also faced additional sanctions imposed Monday by the European Union.
“I believe, if I were in his shoes, I would step down,” King Abdullah told the BBC. “If Bashar has the interest of his country, he would step down, but he would also create an ability to reach out and start a new phase of Syrian political life.”
Other countries in the region with historically close ties to Syria, notably Turkey and Iran, have warned Assad that he should take steps to satisfy the demands of protesters in the 8-month-old uprising, which has now become a focal point in the Arab Spring revolts that have felled autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But the public comments about Assad by King Abdullah — who has faced some Arab Spring protests in his own country — went beyond what others have said.
Earlier Monday, Assad’s foreign minister said the Arab League suspension was “an extremely dangerous step.” But he also apologized for a spree of attacks on foreign embassies in Syria by pro-Assad loyalists outraged over the Arab League move.
The minister, Walid al-Moallem, speaking at a televised news conference in Damascus, reiterated Syria’s contention that it had complied with the terms of a proposed Arab League peace plan by withdrawing its armed troops from urban areas, releasing political prisoners and offering pardons to militants.
But rights activists in Syria — as well as a majority of Arab League members — have said Syria has failed to comply with the peace plan, pointing to new violence in Syria since it agreed to the plan on Nov. 2. Activists said that more than 240 people were killed from the day the plan was announced until last week.
The majority of the deaths were in Homs, a restive city in central Syria that was subjected to a major military assault days after the peace initiative was announced.