Jordan's king warns of effects of Syrian unrest

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AMMAN, Jordan -- Jordan is struggling under the burden of a half-million refugees from the Syrian civil war, a conflict that King Abdullah II fears could create a regional base for extremists and terrorists who are already "establishing firm footholds in some areas."

In an interview yesterday, Abdullah, 51, also said the regime of embattled President Bashar Assad would not survive the revolt that already has killed an estimated 70,000 Syrians.

"I believe we are past that point, too much destruction, too much blood," the king said.

As for his own country, Abdullah says reforms he has launched will lead to a greater democracy and will serve as a model to other Arab states that have been undergoing two years of upheaval that have toppled long-standing leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

He wants Jordan's monarchy to "take a step back," explaining his vision of a new style in which future kings -- and possibly himself -- will serve as arbitrators between political factions but still hold sway over foreign and defense policies.

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Abdullah said Jordan is spending $550 million a year to host 500,000 refugees from Syria's civil war, about 9 percent of Jordan's population of 6 million, and most have crossed in the past 12 months.

At the UN, meanwhile, Syria asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint an independent mission to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack in northern Syria that the regime has blamed on rebels.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud, who raised the issue in the Security Council, said the opposition Syrian National Coalition alleges there was a second chemical weapons attack Tuesday in the Damascus area and it should be investigated.

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