Jordan urges Assad to step down

BEIRUT (AP) — Jordan’s king said Monday that Syrian President Bashar Assad should step down for the good of his country, the first Arab leader to publicly make such a call as Syria’s neighbors close ranks against an increasingly isolated regime.

Syria’s crackdown on an 8-month-old uprising has brought international condemnation, but Damascus generally has been spared broad reproach in the Arab world. That changed Saturday, with a near-unanimous vote by the 22-member Arab League to suspend Syria.

Assad has tried to blunt the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year dynasty by promising reform while also using the military to crack down on protests that refuse to abate despite 3,500 dead — including at least 12 reported killed on Monday.

He still has a firm grip on power, in part because the opposition remains fragmented and he retains the support of the business classes and minority groups who feel vulnerable in an overwhelmingly Sunni nation. The 46-year-old leader can ride out sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe — at least in the near term — as long as he has the support of key allies Russia, China and Iran.

As the uprising wears on, the regime could wobble. Sanctions are chipping away at the ailing economy, and a financial collapse might persuade the middle classes to abandon their allegiance to Assad.

The call by Jordan’s King Abdullah II for Assad to leave was the latest blow.

“If Bashar (Assad) has the interest of his country, he would step down, but he would also create an ability to reach out and start a new phase of Syrian political life,” Abdullah told the BBC in an interview.

“If I was in his position, I would — if it was me — I would step down and make sure whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status quo that we’re seeing,” he said.

Damascus had no immediate public comment.

EU imposes new sanctions

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union decided Monday to impose sanctions on 18 more Syrians to protest the bloody clampdown on dissent by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said sanctions should also be considered to pressure Iran into meeting international demands on its nuclear program.

On Syria, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe insisted that military intervention like what was launched in Libya was not on the table at the moment, although sending U.N. observers could be one way to stem the killings. He said the 27 EU nations should increase their contacts with the Syrian opposition.

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