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Violence in Syria may prompt Turkey to get tough with Assad 26 avril 2011

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The National (UAE) Apr 26, 2011

Thomas Seibert, Istanbul

The mounting death toll in neighbouring Syria and concerns about a possible wave of refugees streaming over the border could lead Turkey’s government to take a tougher stance towards the regime of Bashar al Assad, analysts and media reports said yesterday.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, demanded the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, and has been calling for Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, to step down during the revolts in those countries. Mr Erdogan has refrained from publicly advocating regime change in Damascus, calling for reforms instead. But that may be about to change.

« Assad is escalating the situation. The point of no return is approaching, » the CNN-Turk news channel yesterday quoted unnamed Turkish sources as saying. « Under these conditions, it is getting difficult to stay behind Assad. »

There was no official Turkish government statement.

Relations between Turkey and Syria have prospered in recent years. The countries have been holding regular high-level meetings and in 2009 lifted visa requirements for citizens.

Turkey and Syria share a border of almost 900 kilometres, and there are strong economic and social ties between the two countries. Since anti-government protests in Syria began, Ankara has been careful to stick to its general message of the necessity of democratic change without undermining its ties with the al Assad government.

« Turkey is facing a dilemma, » Celalettin Yavuz, the vice-chairman of the Turkish Centre for International Relations and Strategic Analysis, or Turksam, a think-tank in Ankara, said in a telephone interview yesterday. Turkey was very much interested in preserving its political and economic ties with Syria, which also had the potential benefit of integrating Syria into the international community, he said. On the other hand, Mr Yavuz added, there were serious concerns about the evolving situation in the neighbouring country.

For the moment, Ankara’s policy remained to continue to support the al Assad regime and press for human rights and political reforms, Mr Yavuz said. « But that may change if refugees begin to arrive. A destabilised Syria is cause for concern for Turkey. »

Omer Taspinar, a columnist for the pro-government Sabah newspaper, called for a tougher stance by Turkey on the Syrian conflict because the clashes there were threatening Turkish interests. « A stable Syria is in Turkey’s national interest, » Taspinar wrote. « Exactly for that reason, Ankara should condemn the government in Damascus, because opening fire on the people means sending the country into civil war. And there can be no bigger instability than civil war. »

Turkey, a rising power that regards itself as a regional leader, tried unsuccessfully to mediate in the Libyan crisis. With its appeals to the Syrian government gaining no response, Ankara may face failure on a second front as well.

A visit by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, to Damascus this month does not seem to have brought any progress. Mr Erdogan, in the middle of an election campaign before parliamentary polls scheduled for June 12, does not have the time to wade deeper into the Syrian crisis, Mr Yavuz said.

He added the Turkish government should ask international bodies such as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League to get involved in efforts to defuse the Syrian crisis. Mr Erdogan held talks on Sunday with Ban Ki-moon, the UN general secretary, according to news reports.

There are signs that the reluctance of the al Assad regime to implement promised reforms has frustrated the Turkish government. In a reaction to the clashes in Syria last Friday, the foreign ministry in Ankara urged the Syrian government to act upon its promises of political change.

« Turkey had welcomed the statements made by President Bashar Assad to the effect that the legitimate aspirations of the people would be accommodated and that a series of reforms would be put into practice to this end, » the foreign ministry in Ankara said in the statement that was posted on its website on Saturday.

Ankara was « pleased with the efforts that have already been initiated and some steps taken so far », the statement said, but expected a « continuation of reform efforts with determination, conclusion of these efforts as soon as possible and their implementation without delay ».

The Turkish ministry also called on Syrian government forces to show « maximum self-restraint » to avoid « disproportional and excessive use of force » and to employ « proper methods in response to mass protests ».

The Syrian government should adopt « a course of action that is in compliance with the letter and spirit of the reforms announced », the foreign ministry added.

Omer Onhon, Turkey’s ambassador in Damascus, met with Adil Sefer, the new Syrian prime minister, on Sunday and told him Ankara was concerned about the loss of life in the confrontation between the security forces and demonstrators.

The ambassador told the Turkish Cihan news agency he had informed the prime minister that the reforms announced in the past weeks were « overshadowed by recent events ».

« I also told him that the high number of deaths was very distressing and cause for concern. »


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