Turkish PM presses Assad’s envoy over unrest



Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad envoy Hassan Turkmani met for almost three hours with Erdo?an on June 15.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an held crisis talks with an envoy of Syria’s president on Wednesday as Ankara pressed its once well-regarded neighbour to end a crackdown on protesters that it has called “savagery”.
Relations between Turkey and Syria have been strained as 8,421 Syrian refugees have poured across the border into Turkey seeking sanctuary in makeshift camps of tents from an onslaught by President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces.
Assad envoy Hassan Turkmani met for almost three hours with Erdo?an, who has expressed impatience over Assad’s repressive tactics and slowness to reform, as well as anger over a burgeoning humanitarian crisis.
No statements came out of the meeting. But Erdo?an, who had a close rapport with Assad, had said before his re-election on Sunday that once the vote was over he would be talking to Assad in a “very different manner”.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, the architect of Ankara’s policy of cultivating closer ties with Middle East countries including Syria and Iran, went to the border and talked to refugees, including wounded men lying on beds in camp hospitals.

Seeing Davuto?lu approach, the Syrians — men, women and children — gathered together chanting “Freedom” and “Erdo?an.”

“I’ll talk to Turkmani and will share with him with all frankness what I saw. We are seeing a humanitarian situation here and developments are concerning,” Davuto?lu told reporters after visiting a camp in Yaylada??, across from the restive Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughour, 20 km (13 miles) away.

He said he would meet with Turkmani in Ankara on Thursday.

Turkmani told journalists before meeting Erdo?an the refugees would stay in Turkey for a “short period of time.”

“Soon they will be returning. We have prepared everything for them, they have started returning,” he said.

Assad asked to send an emissary when he called Erdo?an on Tuesday to congratulate him on winning a third term in office.

On Wednesday, a group of refugees in Yaylada?? got their message out, chanting “People want freedom!” and “Erdo?an help us!”, while journalists watched on the other side of the gate.

The crowd was made up of veiled women and young men, some with children on their shoulders. Police did not interfere.

“They treat us like infidels”

With Assad facing mounting international condemnation, Erdo?an has become regarded as a saviour by Syrian refugees.

A 36-year-old Syrian man in a street in the Turkish border village of Güveççi, who gave his name as Ahmed and refused to be filmed, gave a taste of what Davuto?lu was likely to hear.

“We decided to flee to Turkey after learning troops arrived in Jisr al-Shughour: I, my wife and six kids. We heard they were burning down the city, including the mosques,” he said.

“We came here to protect our family, we’re not against them, but they fight us like we were infidels.

“I don’t plan to go back until the situation improves there. Some of my relatives were wounded during protests in Jisr al Shughour, one of them was shot in the foot, two were killed, one was shot in the head and is in intensive care now.”

Preparations are being made for another influx of refugees far to the east along the 800 km border.

A Turkish Red Crescent official, who requested anonymity, said more tent camps, able to shelter 10,000 people, were being set up near the Turkish city of Mardin and the town of Nusaybin.

Erdo?an has called Assad several times since public unrest first broke out in Syria three months ago, each time urging reforms and an end to the bloodshed.

In a telephone call on Tuesday, Erdo?an told Assad to avoid using violence against his people and advised him that reforms should be undertaken as soon as possible. Erdo?an also raised concern over protests outside Turkey’s embassy in Damascus.

Some 2,000 demonstrators marched to the Turkish embassy in Damascus on Sunday and tried to hoist a Syrian flag.

Davuto?lu: Borders to remain open to troubled Syrians

Davuto?lu on Wednesday made crystal clear that his country will not close its southern borders with Syria to Syrians fleeing violent clashes into Turkey, while highlighting that Syria is not at all “an ordinary foreign [policy] issue” for Turkey. “As you know, Syria is a most important friend and brotherly country for us, a neighboring country. It is impossible for us to remain indifferent to the developments there [in Syria],” Davuto?lu told reporters at Ankara’s Esenbo?a International Airport ahead of his departure for Hatay.

“Syria is not an ordinary foreign [policy] issue; it cannot be,” Davuto?lu added.

“It is out of question for us to shut down in any way our doors on our Syrian brothers. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has made this point very clear. For us, the Syrian and Turkish peoples share a common future and fate,” he said in response to a question as to whether Turkey would accept any more Syrians if their numbers in Turkey exceeded 10,000. Noting that the Turkish prime minister was set to meet Turkmani in Ankara, later in the day, he added: “Besides, I will discuss the latest developments in the region and in Syria with Turkish ambassadors commissioned in the Middle East.”

He was referring to a meeting to be held on Thursday in Ankara. Davuto?lu will lead a high-level meeting with ambassadors abroad in order to make a comprehensive review of the Arab Spring. The meeting was originally set to take place on Wednesday, but it has been postponed to Thursday due to the minister’s travel to Hatay.

Davuto?lu warned that further escalation of violence in Syria might force more Syrians to an exodus, which he said could only be prevented if the Syrian government met their people’s demands for reform.


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