‘Coward’ Assad must quit, says former ally

‘Coward’ Assad must quit, says former ally

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad was branded a coward on Tuesday by his onetime friend and ally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

By (AFP)

Published: Tue 22 Nov 2011, 7:52 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:43 AM

DAMASCUS — Syria’s Bashar al-Assad was branded a coward on Tuesday by his onetime friend and ally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who urged him to quit or face a bloody death like other dictators.

The opposition Syrian National Council said meanwhile that it is already pressing ahead with plans for a conference together with the Arab League to prepare for a “transitional period” after the fall of Assad’s regime.

Assad is under mounting pressure from Syria’s neighbours to step down over his regime’s eight-month crackdown on protests that the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people.

And in his fiercest criticism yet of his former personal friend, Erdogan called on Assad to “quit power before more blood is shed ... for the peace of your people, your region and your country.”

After weeks of mounting criticism of Assad, it was the first time the Turkish premier had directly called for his removal, becoming the second leader of a neighbouring country to do so after Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

“Bashar al-Assad is saying he will fight to the death. Fighting your own people ... is not heroism but cowardice,” Erdogan told parliament, referring to a recent interview with Assad published by the Sunday Times in London.

“If you want to see someone who fought and died, take at look at Nazi Germany, take a look at Hitler, take a look at Mussolini and Romania’s Ceausescu,” he said.

Adolf Hitler died in his bunker as Allied forces closed in on Berlin, wartime Italian leader Benito Mussolini was strung up from a lamp post by an angry mob and Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed by firing squad on Christmas Day 1989.

If the Syrian leader had failed to learn lessons from history, Erdogan invited him to consider the more recent fate of Libya’s longtime strongman Moamer Kadhafi who was killed by his opponents after being chased from power.

Erdogan also asked Assad why he failed to display the same fighting spirit to win back the Golan Heights, a rocky plateau which Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Middle East war and unilaterally annexed in 1981.

“You are talking about fighting to the death. Why didn’t you fight to the death for the Golan Heights occupied by Israel?” Erdogan asked.

He insisted Turkey had no intention of interfering in Syria’s domestic affairs but added “we cannot remain indifferent” to what happens in a neighbouring country with which Turkey shares a 910-kilometre (570-mile) border.

Turkey has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of Assad after its diplomatic missions came under attack by pro-government demonstrators in several Syrian cities earlier this month.

Tensions deteriorated further on Monday when two busloads of Turkish pilgrims who were in Syria on their way back from the hajj in Mecca were attacked by gunmen.

The Syrian National Council, the largest and most representative opposition grouping, said that it was in talks with activists and dissidents to prepare for the transition “in accordance with the Arab League initiative.”

“It was determined that the conference will issue a memorandum concerning the post-Syrian regime phase,” it said, adding this would ensure “inclusivity and the participation of all political forces in Syria.”

On Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Syria’s opposition to unify to become stronger as he held his first meetings with their representatives in London.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe issued a similar call last week, saying “the SNC must get organised” before it can win recognition from the French government.

The SNC has so far been officially recognised only by the new post-Kadhafi Libyan authorities.

In another sign of the Arab world’s growing anger over the crackdown, Riyadh demanded an explanation from Damascus for what it called a “sinful attack” that killed a Saudi man in the restive Syrian city of Homs.

In a statement issued by the kingdom’s official SPA news agency, a Saudi embassy official in the Syrian capital said Hussein bin Bandar bin Khalaf al-Anzi died early Monday while visiting family in Homs.

And the toll continued to mount near the besieged central city on Tuesday, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that a child and two teenagers were killed by gunshots fired from a security checkpoint.

“Three people aged 10, 13 and 15 were killed by indiscriminate gunfire from members of the military and security services stationed at a checkpoint in Hule,” a town northwest of Homs, the British-based group said in a statement.

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