Arab League chief embarks on Syria mission
The Arab League chief flies to Damascus on a delayed visit with a 13-point proposal in hand for power transition after Assad's deadly crackdown on Friday
AFP , Saturday 10 Sep 2011
Arab League chief Nabil El-Arabi is due in Syria on a delayed visit Saturday, bearing proposals aimed at ending a bloody crackdown and launching reform after another deadly day of anti-regime protests.
Arabi's mission comes three days later than originally planned, and he is set to bring a 13-point document outlining Arab proposals to end the crisis and begin a reform process in the violence-wracked League member state.
His trip comes after yet another deadly Friday crackdown on demonstrators against President Bashar Al-Assad's rule, with activists reporting at least five people killed by army gunfire after the weekly midday Muslim prayers.
Arabi had originally been due in Damascus on Wednesday, but Damascus postponed the trip at the 11th-hour "due to circumstances beyond our control."
According to a copy of the Arab League document seen by AFP, Arabi was to propose that Assad hold elections in three years, move towards a pluralistic government and immediately halt the crackdown.
The attempt by the 22-member pan-Arab body to resolve the festering Syria crisis takes place with the United States set to ramp up work on a UN Security Council resolution targeting Syria.
"We're looking at accelerating that work next week," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in reference to a draft resolution likely to include sanctions.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a 15-year-old boy was shot dead on Friday by troops in the northwestern village of Al-Rama and that security forces fired on protesters in another village in the area.
The rebellious central city of Homs was also swept by demonstrations, including one rally of an estimated 20,000 people demanding the regime's fall, the Observatory said.
"Huge protests" took place in the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor and in Damascus neighbourhoods, including in flashpoint Barza where 150 people marched chanting slogans "for the protection of Syria," the Observatory said.
Videos posted on the Internet showed crowds in Barza with some carrying signs saying: "We want Russia and China to change their position towards this regime."
In Homs, demonstrators on YouTube videos were heard chanting "Long live Free Syria," and in the central city of Hama they held up signs that read "Bashar, Game Over" and "The people want to execute the president."
The Local Coordination Committees group, which has activists on the ground, also reported protests in the southern city of Sweida and said more than 10,000 rallied in Ibleen.
None of the reports could be independently verified as Syria bans correspondents from reporting on the unrest.
The United Nations says 2,200 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since pro-democracy protests flared in Syria in mid-March.
Democracy activists called for international observers and urged support from Syrian ally Russia a day after President Dmitry Medvedev said some protesters were "terrorists" -- echoing Assad's own words.
"The Syrian people call on the United Nations (UN) to adopt a resolution to set up a permanent observer mission in Syria," the activists said on the "Syrian Revolution 2011" Facebook page.
The crackdown has infuriated world powers, some of which imposed sanctions on the regime, with fresh pressure piled on Assad from neighbouring Turkey.
"He who bases his power on bloodshed will end up leaving in a trail of blood," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera television on Thursday, adding that "shadows loom over the legitimacy" of Assad.
Medvedev said Thursday the Syrian authorities had been guilty of using "disproportionate force" against protesters, calling some of them "terrorists."
And he reiterated Russian opposition to backing "unilateral condemnation" of Syria such as a UN Security Council resolution, as a delegation of Syrian activists visited Moscow seeking support.
"Russia should be playing a more active and positive role in regulating the political situation in Syria," the head of Syria's National Organisation for Human Rights, Ammar Qorabi, said in Moscow.
He was speaking after meeting the Russian upper house of parliament's foreign affairs chief, Mikhail Margelov.
Margelov said he would meet Syrian presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban on Monday and try to get approval to send a delegation of Russian senators to Damascus.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, said "Iran is ready to host a meeting of Islamic countries to reach a collective understanding in order to help Syria," his website reported.