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Arab League calls on Syria's Assad to step down

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Arab League on Sunday called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to hand over power to his vice president under the terms of a transition plan similar to that which paved the way for the departure, hours earlier, of Yemen's president for the United States.

The announcement of the plan at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo signaled growing Arab frustration with Assad's failure to implement the terms of a peace plan to which he agreed in November.

The plan laid down a timetable under which negotiations with the opposition would begin in two weeks and a unity government would be formed within two months. Assad would then leave office ahead of elections to be held within three months. It was not immediately clear which of two Syrian vice presidents, Farouk al-Shara or Najah al-Attar, would be expected to take over.

The Syrian National Council, the main Syrian opposition coalition, welcomed the initiative as a step toward Assad's departure, the group's leader, Burhan Ghalioun, told reporters in Cairo.

But activists in Syria have said they will not negotiate with Assad.

There was no immediate response from the Syrian government, and a spokesman did not respond to calls.

But Assad vowed in a defiant speech this month that he would not step down unless the Syrian people asked him to, and the Arab League's secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby told reporters that the bloodshed would have to stop before the negotiations could start, a condition that cast into doubt the likelihood the plan would succeed.

Activist groups reported 22 people were killed by security forces Sunday around the country.

Turmoil in Libya

The head of Libya's transitional government on Sunday suspended delegates from Benghazi, the city that kicked off the movement that toppled ruler Moammar Gadhafi last year. The announcement came the day after protesters stormed the National Transitional Council offices in Benghazi. Protesters accuse the body of corruption and not moving fast enough on reform.

Arab League calls on Syria's Assad to step down 01/22/12 [Last modified: Sunday, January 22, 2012 11:41pm]
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