Syria rejects Arab League call for power change

Syria today rejected an Arab League plan for President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power to his deputy and make way for a national unity government, calling the initiative a ''flagrant interference.''

"Syria rejects the decisions taken which are outside an Arab working plan, and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs," state TV quoted an official as saying.

The Arab League yesterday asked the United Nations to support a new plan for resolving the crisis in Syria that sees Assad transferring power to his deputy and a government of national unity within two months.

Assad should "delegate powers to the vice president to liaise with a government of national unity," to be formed in two months, according to a statement read by Qatari premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani.

The statement followed a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo to determine the fate of their Syrian observer mission.

The Syrian official said the regional body should instead "assume its responsibilities for stopping the financing and arming of terrorists," the television channel reported.
Deployed since December 26 to oversee an Arab League peace plan, the observer mission has been widely criticised for its failure to stem the government's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said ahead of the Cairo talks that Riyadh had pulled its observers from the mission because the Syrian government had "not respected any of the clauses" of an Arab peace plan.

The League agreed, however, to extend the mission and boost the number of observers, according to the final statement.

The League's secretary general Nabil al-Arabi, who attended yesterday evening's news conference in Cairo, explained that a request for UN support aimed to "give more weight" to the Arab initiative.

The foreign ministers urged "the Syrian government and all the opposition factions to engage in a serious dialogue under the auspices of the Arab League, within a period of not more than two weeks, to be able to achieve the formation of a unity government bringing together those in power and the opposition."

The new government's mission would be to implement the Arab League plan to end the crisis, and to prepare free and fair legislative and presidential elections under both Arab and international supervision.

It would also prepare the election of a constituent assembly within three months and a new constitution which would be put to a referendum.

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