* Syrian crowds attack Saudi embassy, French, Turkish consulates
* Move could prompt tougher international action
* Calls on Arab states to withdraw ambassadors
* Syria suspects foreign interference (Adds attacks on Saudi embassy,
French, Turkish centres)
By Yasmine Saleh and Ayman Samir
CAIRO, Nov 12 (Reuters) - The Arab League suspended Syria and called on its
army to stop killing civilians in a surprise move on Saturday that some
Western leaders said should prompt tougher international action against
President Bashar al-Assad.
Hours after the League's decision, hundreds of Assad supporters armed with
sticks and knives attacked the Saudi Arabian embassy in Damascus and Turkish
and French consulates in the city of Latakia, residents said.
U.S. President Barack Obama praised the League's move and France said it was
time for international bodies to take more action against Syria's
The Arab League will impose economic and political sanctions on Damascus and
has appealed to member states to withdraw their ambassadors, said Qatar's
Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. It will also call a meeting
of Syrian opposition parties, he said.
"We were criticised for taking a long time but this was out of our concern
for Syria," Sheikh Hamad told reporters at the League's headquarters in
Cairo. "We needed to have a majority to approve those decisions."
Syria's representative at the Arab League said the decision was "not worth
the ink it was written with".
The League's announcement was a sharp rebuke for Syria's leadership which
sees itself as a champion of Arab nationalism.
Hopes among Western powers that Assad would be isolated by his Arab
neighbours were repeatedly dashed until now. Some Arab leaders have been
reluctant to turn against one of their peers given their own restive
populations, Middle East diplomats say.
But Assad has pressed ahead with the crackdown on protesters against his
rule despite an Arab peace plan brokered on Nov. 2. The United Nations says
more than 3,500 people have been killed in seven months of violence.
Syria blames armed groups for the violence and says 1,200 members of the
security forces have been killed. Assad, from the minority Alawite community
which has held power for four decades in mainly Muslim Syria, has said he
has used legitimate means to confront a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian
Activists said six people were killed in Syria on Saturday.
Sheikh Hamad said the suspension of Syria from the regional body would take
effect on Nov. 16, but did not detail the sanctions.
"We ask the Arab Syrian Army to not be involved in the violent actions and
killing of civilians," Sheikh Hamad said, quoting from an Arab League
Syria's Arab League representative, Youssef Ahmed, said suspending Damascus
violated the League's charter because it could only be done by consensus at
a summit of Arab leaders.
It was clear that "orders were issued to them from the United States and
Europe to hasten a decision against Syria," Ahmed told Syrian state TV.
As news of the suspension spread in Syria, hundreds of men shouting
pro-Assad slogans broke into the Saudi embassy in the Syrian capital,
residents told Reuters.
Angry crowds also attacked the French and Turkish consulates in Latakia, 330
km (210 miles) north of Damascus on the Mediterranean coast, locals said.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement demonstrators "gathered
outside the embassy, threw stones at it, then stormed the building". It said
Syrian security forces did not react fast enough and held the Syrian
government responsible for protecting Saudi interests.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said he was unaware of any attacks on
French interests in Syria. There was no immediate confirmation from Ankara.
A senior diplomat in Damascus confirmed the attacks. "We do not have the
full picture from Latakia, but the attacks there appear to have been really
Syrian TV reported a demonstration outside the Qatar embassy in Damascus.
Assad's opponents hailed the League's new resolve.
"This gives a lot of strength to the position of the Syrian National
Council. This is now an Arab position," said Basma Qadmani, a member of the
executive committee of the Syrian National Council, the most prominent
Qadmani said that now that the Arab League had taken its decision "we
believe there is no justification for international reluctance" to take
tougher steps against Assad's government.
Obama praised the Arab League and said he would continue to pile pressure on
the Syrian leadership.
"These significant steps expose the increasing diplomatic isolation of a
regime that has systematically violated human rights and repressed peaceful
protests," he said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated her call for Assad to step
down. "International pressure will continue to build until the brutal Assad
regime heeds the calls of its own people and the world community," she said
in a statement.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the decision sent an
important signal to those in the U.N. Security Council who had up to now
prevented a clear resolution on Syria.
"We will urge this to be seen as a chance for a change of heart," he said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said it was time for international
bodies to take more action.
"France appeals to the international community to hear the message sent by
the Arab states, to take its responsibilities and to thus act without
further delay," he said in a statement.
ECHOES OF LIBYA
Freezing Syria out of the 22-member League of Arab States carries extra
symbolism in the wake of events in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi was ousted
and killed in a rebellion that benefited from NATO air support.
The NATO mission got U.N. Security Council approval after Libya was
suspended by the Arab League.
"This step introduces a possibility of foreign intervention and opens the
door for engaging the international community in the case," said Nabil Abdel
Fattah, a political analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and
Strategic Studies in Cairo.
Sheikh Hamad held out the possibility that the League may ask the United
Nations to help protect the rights of Syrians.
"If the violence and killing doesn't stop, the Secretary General will call
on international organisations dealing with human rights, including the
United Nations," he said. (Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in
Amman, Omar Fahmy and Ahmad Elhamy in Cairo, Dominic Evans in Beirut,
Christian Plumb in Paris and Laura MacInnis in Honolulu; Writing by Tom
Pfeiffer; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Sat Nov 12 2011 - 19:22:07 EST