Turkish PM accuses Syrian regime of ‘atrocity’

Filed on June 10, 2011

ANKARA - Turkey’s prime minister accused the Syrian regime of perpetrating an “atrocity” against anti-government demonstrators as a new offensive threatened to increase the flow of refugees crossing the border.

“Unfortunately they do not behave humanely,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a television interview late Thursday carried by Anatolia news agency, describing the treatment of the bodies of women slain by the security forces as an “atrocity”.

“I talked to (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) four or five days ago,” said Erdogan, a personal friend of the Syrian leader. “But they underestimate the situation.”

Erdogan said the brutal crackdown on protesters was “unacceptable” and would “necessarily” lead the UN Security Council to step in.

“Upon all these we cannot insist on (defending) Syria,” he added.

It was Turkey’s harshest reaction yet to the Syrian turmoil, which has forced nearly 3,000 people to seek refuge across the border in Turkey.

Britain and France have drawn up a new Security Council resolution, expected to be voted on shortly, demanding that Assad end violence against the opposition and lift the siege of protesting cities. It also calls for an arms embargo on Syria.

Erdogan had earlier piled pressure on Assad to initiate reform, but stopped short of calling for his departure.

The Syrian army Friday launched an operation against “armed gangs” in the flashpoint town of Jisr al-Shughur, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Turkish border, where authorities say 120 police and troops were massacred, Syrian state television said.

Rights activists said that most of the 50,000 inhabitants of Jisr al-Shughur had fled — many to neighbouring Turkey — when tanks and troops began midweek converging on the northwestern town and that it was now largely deserted.

The influx to Turkey has accelerated since Tuesday and more people poured in overnight and on Friday morning over the border in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay, bringing the total figure to 2,792, Anatolia reported.

Elderly people, children and women were among the refugees.

Fifty-one wounded people remained under treatment in hospital, according to Anatolia.

The refugees have been sheltered in a tent city in Yayladagi town near the border which the Red Crescent has begun to expand.

The agency was to erect another camp with a capacity for 5,000 people at Hatay’s Boynuyogun village, Anatolia said.

About 60 people gathered Friday morning on the Syrian side of the border facing Turkey’s Guvecci village, poised to cross over, a witness told AFP.

Erdogan reiterated that Turkey would keep the doors open for the refugees, but asked “How far this will continue?”

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned of deepening instability in the country.

“Reforms should be carried out in a way to convince people that a new era starts in Syria,” he said.

Turkey’s ties with Syria have flourished in recent years, and Ankara has said it would like to see a democratic transition in its southern neighbour under Assad.

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed and at least 10,000 arrested in a brutal crackdown on almost daily anti-regime demonstrations in Syria since March 15, rights organisations say.

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