Arab League visit to Syria 'delayed'

Damascus had earlier criticised the body's plea to end attacks on protesters and for political and economic reforms.

    President Bashar al-Assad's extreme response to demonstrations has led to international criticism [Reuters]

    A planned Arab League visit to Syria on Wednesday to convey concerns over President Bashar al-Assad's violent crackdown on anti-regime protesters has been delayed, an Arab diplomat said.

    The diplomat, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters news agency late on Tuesday that the visit by Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby had been delayed but not cancelled.

    "It will take place when conditions permit," he added without elaborating.

    Egypt's state news agency MENA said the delay followed a request from Syria, which gave no explanation and did not fix a new date for the trip.

    Syria, which faces new sanctions from the European Union and wider Western pressure for Assad to go, had criticised the Arab League's decision late last month to urge an end to attacks on protesters and political and economic reforms.

    Mounting criticism

    Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, made his strongest remarks yet on Tuesday against the Syrian government's crackdown.

    He condemned the violence, which he said was being committed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime against his people during the five-month-old uprising.

    Ban called on Assad to take "bold and decisive measures before it's too late".

    "It's already too late, in fact,'' Ban said in New Zealand, where he was attending a meeting of Pacific leaders.

    "If it takes more and more days, then more people will be killed.''

    Ban said it was time for UN members to unite and take "coherent measures".

    Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Syria denounced Assad's regime in a posting on Facebook.

    Ambassador Robert Frost said he accepted that members of Syria's security forces had died during protests, but their numbers were far less than the number of protestors killed.

    Ambassador Ford also said that the Syrian government, with a "clear preponderance of arms and force, bears the responsibility for the violence."

    "We support the right of Syrians to protest peacefully. Peaceful protestors are not 'terrorists,'" he added.

    Fresh sanctions planned

    Assad's extreme response to demonstrations has led to broad international sanctions aimed at isolating his regime.

    On Tuesday, a French government official said the European Union was working on a fresh round of sanctions against Syria that would target economic entities.

    "We are working with our partners on a seventh round of sanctions that would target economic entities," said Bernard Valero, a French foreign ministry spokesman.

    Activists said 20 people had been killed on Monday and Tuesday and the United Nations estimates more than 2,200 people have been killed since unrest began in March.

    Information from Syria is hard to obtain or independently verify, as the government has banned foreign journalists and restricted local media during the revolt.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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