Arab League chief meets with Syrian leader

Posted: September 11, 2011

BEIRUT, Lebanon - The head of the Arab League met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday to discuss ways of ending the bloodshed in the country, even as activists reported at least five people killed in the government's crackdown on a six-month-old uprising.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby was originally expected to visit Damascus on Wednesday, but the visit was delayed at Syria's request in what appeared to be a sign of the country's growing alarm over any outside criticism.

"I heard from him an understanding of the situation, and he showed me a series of measures taken by the Syrian government that focused on national dialogue," Elaraby said in a statement after the meeting.

He described the talk with Assad as a "frank conversation," but offered few details.

Also Saturday, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces killed at least five people in the restive central city of Homs.

The revolt in Syria began six months ago with modest calls for change, but as the crackdown continues - and the death toll tops 2,200 people - the protesters are calling for the downfall of the regime.

In a marked shift, the protesters also have started calling for some sort of outside help - although not necessarily military action such as the NATO intervention that helped topple the government of Libya. Instead, they are largely calling for observation missions and human rights monitors who could help deter attacks on civilians.

"We want international protection!" protesters shouted Friday in cities across the country, taking to the streets as they do every Friday after the main Muslim prayer service of the week, despite the near-certainty that regime forces will respond with deadly force.

Widespread international condemnation and sanctions have done little to stop Assad's crackdown.

The regime has all but sealed off the country to foreigners, saying the unrest is being driven by terrorists and thugs who want to destroy Syria.

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