POSTED: 03:07 a.m. HST, Nov 13, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 03:34 a.m. HST, Nov 13, 2011
BEIRUT » Tens of thousands of Syrian government supporters poured into the streets Sunday to protest an Arab League vote to suspend the country's membership, as hundreds of riot police guarded Arab and Western diplomatic missions after a night of attacks on embassies.
The Syrian government called for an urgent Arab summit to discuss the deepening crisis 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 violence.
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 it increasingly isolated over its crackdown on an eight-month uprising that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 3,500 people since mid-March.
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.
"You Arab leaders are the tails of Obama," read one banner held by protesters accusing the Arab League of bowing to pressure from the U.S. 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.