Beirut: Tens of thousands of Syrian government supporters poured into the streets on Sunday to protest an Arab League vote to suspend the country's membership, as Turkey sent planes to evacuate diplomatic staff and their families after a night of attacks on embassies. Sunday's protests in support of the government drew large numbers in the capital and four other cities, a turnout helped by the closure of businesses and schools.
Facing growing isolation, the Syrian government called for an urgent Arab summit to discuss the country's spiraling political unrest and invited Arab League officials to visit before its membership suspension was to take effect on Wednesday.
In a significant concession, the government said the Arab officials could bring any civilian or military observers they deem appropriate to oversee implementation of an Arab League plan for ending the bloodshed.
The 22-member bloc's vote on Saturday was a stinging rebuke to a regime that prides itself as a bastion of Arab nationalism and left Syria increasingly isolated over its crackdown on an eight-month uprising that the UN estimates has killed more than 3,500 people since mid-March.
The violence continued on Sunday, with activists reporting at least 11 people killed in shootings by security forces in several parts of the country.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network said at least four of the deaths occurred in the central city of Hama when security forces fired on a group of opposition protesters who infiltrated a pro-government rally in the area.
"You Arab leaders are the tails of Obama," read one banner held by protesters accusing the Arab League of bowing to pressure from the US president.
Thousands of people carried red, black and white Syrian flags and posters of President Bashar Assad in a Damascus square. Similar demonstrations were held in the cities of Aleppo, Latakia, Tartous and Hasakeh.
The Syrian leader asserts that extremists pushing a foreign agenda to destabilize Syria are behind the country's unrest, rather than true reform seekers aiming to open the country's autocratic political system. Sunday's demonstrators accused Arab countries of being complicit with the purported conspiracy.
The government called the Arab League decision "illegal," claiming it was intended to set the stage for foreign military intervention like in Libya.
However, the offer to allow a visit by an Arab League ministerial committee and accompanying monitors appeared to signal some will to try to implement an Arab League-brokered deal for ending the violence that the government has so far seemed unwilling or unable to do.
The November 2 deal calls for Syria to halt attacks on protesters, pull tanks out of cities and hold talks with the opposition.
There was no immediate reaction from Arab League officials on the Syrian invitation. Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby, on a visit to Libya, demanded immediate implementation of the Arab peace initiative.
Youssef Ahmed, Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, said the official request for an emergency meeting was on its way to the organisation and that Syria was awaiting a response.
Beirut: Tens of thousands of Syrian government supporters poured into the streets on Sunday to protest an Arab League vote to suspend the country's membership, as Turkey sent planes to evacuate diplomatic staff and their families after a night of attacks on embassies.
Sunday's protests in support of the government drew large numbers in the capital and four other cities, a turnout helped by the closure of businesses and schools.