23 Jan 2012

Calls for Assad to step down rejected by Syria

9:39 pm on 23 January 2012

Syria has rejected an Arab League call for the President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to his deputy.

League foreign ministers, meeting in Cairo, also called on Syria to form a national unity government with the opposition within two months.

The BBC says Syria's rejection of the plan was reported on Syrian state television.

It quoted a government official as saying the plan is" flagrant interference" in Syria's internal affairs.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died as a result of the crackdown on protests since they began last March.

The league has called on both sides to end the bloodshed.

The government in Damascus says it is fighting what it calls terrorists and armed gangs and claims about 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.

Saudi Arabia pulls out of monitoring mission

Earlier, Saudi Arabia announced it had pulled out of the 165-strong Arab League monitoring mission to Syria.

Announcing the decision, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the decision to pull out was because "the Syrian government did not execute any elements of the Arab resolution plan."

He also called for the international community to put more pressure on Damascus.

"We are calling on the international community to bear its responsibility, and that includes our brothers in Islamic states and our friends in Russia, China, Europe and the United States," he said.

The Arab league mission expired on Thursday, but the Arab League ministers said they were extending it for another month.

The BBC quotes analysts as saying the Saudi decision has thrown its longer-term future into serious doubt.

The monitoring mission has been criticised for failing to stop the violence in Syria.