JORDAN. Jordan's King Abdullah has called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, the first Arab leader to do so since the Syrian government started its deadly crackdown on an eight-month-long uprising.
King Abdullah said in an interview with the BBC Monday that he would step down if he were in Assad's position and create a way for Syrians to start "a new phase of political life."
Meanwhile, Syria has accused the Arab League of taking a "dangerous step" by voting to suspend its membership in the regional bloc.
In a news conference Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Saturday's vote is "illegitimate" because the motion to suspend Syria did not receive unanimous approval in the 22-member body. Eighteen nations led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar voted in favor of sanctioning Damascus, while Syria, Lebanon and Yemen voted against the sanctioning. Iraq abstained.
The motion said Syria's membership will be suspended beginning Wednesday if Damascus continues to violate an Arab League peace deal to end the violent crackdown. League foreign ministers are due to meet Wednesday in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, to discuss the situation.
Al-Moallem said Damascus has taken measures to implement the Arab League plan. He predicted that Russia and China will continue to block Western efforts to impose sanctions on Syria through the U.N. Security Council.
European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed Monday to extend existing EU sanctions against Syria to 18 more individuals suspected of links to the violent suppression of opposition protests. The 27-nation EU also decided to stop Syria from accessing funds from the European Investment Bank.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated Moscow's support for the Syrian president's government Monday, saying Russia opposes Syria's suspension from the Arab League. But China's foreign ministry said it is important for Syria to implement the Arab League peace plan as soon as possible.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday Ankara will take a "resolute stance" against any further attacks on its diplomatic missions in Syria. He also said Turkey will stand by the Syrian people in what he called their "rightful struggle" against the Assad government.
Syria continued its violent crackdown Sunday, with activists reporting at least nine people killed in shootings by security forces across the country.
The U.N. human rights agency says at least 3,500 people have been killed in Syria in connection with anti-Assad protests since March. Syria blames much of the violence on foreign-backed "terrorists and thugs."