Turkey urges Assad to halt violence, speed up reforms



Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to stop using force against protesters in a 12-week uprising against his 11-year rule.
The state-run Anatolia news agency reported on Tuesday that Erdo?an, who remains almost the sole leader who consistently has consultations with Assad on the situation in Syria, urged the Syrian leader to stay away from violence, stop his crackdown and speed up much-needed reforms to meet the demands of the people.
The brutal crackdown on protesters paralyzed life in restive northern towns bordering Turkey last week and thousands of Syrian refugees have taken refuge in Turkey. Turkish officials say nearly 9,000 Syrian refugees had already crossed the Turkish-Syrian border by Tuesday.

Before Sunday’s vote, Erdo?an slammed both Assad and his younger brother, Maher, the mastermind behind the crackdown on protesters across the country, and urged the Syrian authorities to halt the violence. Erdo?an, opening Turkey’s borders to those fleeing the government onslaught, has accused Assad’s regime of “savagery,” but also said he would reach out to the Syrian leader to help solve the crisis.

In follow-up developments, nearly 2,000 supporters of the Syrian regime marched toward the Turkish Embassy in Damascus on Sunday, trying to plant a Syrian flag in front of the building.

Syrian tanks pushed toward more towns and villages near the Turkish and Iraqi borders on Tuesday, expanding the crackdown against the uprising to the north and east and prompting more Syrians to flee from their homes.

Assad appears to have abandoned all pretense of offering reform, sending tanks, helicopter gunships and only his most loyal forces into population centers to crush dissent.

Assad had initially promised mild reforms, but his gestures have been rejected by the thousands who have staged protests across Syria and who say they won’t stop until he leaves power, ending his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty.

Erdo?an said he was disappointed by the Assad government’s poor reform record and said the Syrian leader had shrugged off his calls to expedite the reforms he promised in late March.

In the past week, as the government appeared to be on the verge of losing control of major swaths of the country, it abandoned most pretenses at reform.

The brutal crackdown on the uprising, the most serious threat to the Assad family’s power, has altered a view held by many in Syria and abroad of Assad as a reformer at heart, one constrained by members of his late father’s old guard who were fighting change, especially privileged members of the Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have died and some 10,000 have been detained in the government crackdown since the popular uprising began in mid-March.

Turkey and Syria once nearly went to war, but the two countries have cultivated warm relations in recent years, lifting travel visa requirements for their citizens and promoting business ties.

They share an 850-kilometer border. Refugees and relatives on both sides appeared to be crossing unimpeded around the border village of Güveççi.

In apparent anticipation of more refugees, workers of the Turkish Red Crescent (K?z?lay), the equivalent of the Red Cross, began building a fifth tent camp on Monday near the border.

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