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Arab League votes to suspend Syria from all meetings until it implements plan to end bloodshed
CAIRO (AP) ' The Arab League has voted to suspend Syria from all meetings until Damascus implements an agreement to end its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters.
Qatar's foreign minister says the suspension will begin on Wednesday and he called on the Syrian army to stop the violence against civilians.
He says 18 countries agreed to Saturday's decision, while Lebanon, Yemen and Syria voted against it and Iraq abstained.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
CAIRO (AP) ' Arab League foreign ministers convened on Saturday for an emergency session to discuss Syria's failure to end a deadly crackdown on civilian protests.
Ministers made their way into the 22-member body's headquarters in Cairo to debate their response to Syria's defiance of an earlier League initiative calling for a cease-fire.
They walked past about 100 demonstrators, who echoed calls by Syria's opposition to suspend the country's membership in the 22-nation body -- a powerful symbolic blow to a nation that prides itself on being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.
Protesters carried placards reading "Freedom for the Syrian people" and "Arab leaders are garbage" as they chanted for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad. They were joined by demonstrators from Yemen, protesting violent government crackdowns in their country.
Syria agreed to a peace plan last week brokered by the Arab League, but the violence has continued unabated, with November shaping up to be the bloodiest month yet in Syria's 8-month-old uprising. More than 250 Syrian civilians have been killed in the past 11 days as the regime besieges the rebellious city of Homs.
The U.N. estimates some 3,500 people have been killed in the Syrian crackdown since the uprising began eight months ago, inspired by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
The bloodshed has spiked dramatically in recent weeks amid signs that more protesters are taking up arms to protect themselves, changing the face of what has been a largely peaceful movement. Many fear the change plays directly into the hands of the regime by giving the military a pretext to crack down with increasing force.
Although the crackdown has led to broad international isolation, President Assad appears to have a firm grip on power.
Assad, and his father who ruled Syria before him, stacked key security and military posts with members of their minority Alawite sect over the past 40 years, ensuring loyalty by melding the fate of the army and the regime. As a result, the army leadership will likely protect the regime at all costs, for fear it will be persecuted if the country's Sunni majority gains the upper hand. Most of the army defectors so far appear to be lower-level Sunni conscripts.
Syria blames the bloodshed on "armed gangs" and extremists acting out a foreign agenda to destabilize the regime.
The government has largely sealed off the country from foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting, making it difficult to confirm events on the ground.
Key sources of information are amateur videos posted online and details gathered by witnesses and activist groups who then contact the media, often at great personal risk.