x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Erdogan seeks allies in campaign to oust Assad

Turkey launches a campaign for international cooperation against the regime of Bashar Al Assad, while continuing to support the Arab League's efforts to stop the violence in Syria.

ISTANBUL // Turkey launched a campaign for international cooperation against the regime of Bashar Al Assad.

"At this point, we will start a new initiative with those countries that stand with the people, not with the government, of Syria," the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "We are beginning with the preparations."

Turkey will continue to support the Arab League's efforts to stop the violence, Mr Erdogan said. More than 7,000 civilians, army defectors and security forces have been killed since anti-government demonstrations began in March last year, according to the United Nations.

Mr Erdogan, speaking to his ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, did not say if Turkey would take part in a French-German plan to form an international contact group to increase pressure on the Assad regime.

A Turkish diplomat suggested it was open to the proposal. "Turkey will continue to support or discuss every kind of fruitful idea," he said.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, is expected to discuss Syria with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, on a visit to Washington that begins today.

Mr Erdogan criticised the UN for failing to find a joint position on the Syrian crisis in the Security Council, where Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution on Saturday.

"The developments at the UN are a fiasco for the civilised world," Mr Erdogan said. He said the power of veto at the UN was a "great responsibility" and should not be used to "give the green light to the continuation of cruelty".

"The Syrian problem must not become the victim of disputes between blocs" in a Cold War-style impasse between the West on one side and Russia and China on the other, he said.

Mr Erdogan said the regime in Damascus had entered "a dead-end street" with the use of violence against its own population. He compared the bombardment of Homs by Mr Assad's forces to the bloody repression by Mr Assad's father, Hafez Al Assad, who ordered the massacre of up to 25,000 people in a military operation against opponents in Hama in 1982.

"Accounts over Hama have never been settled, but sooner or later accounts will be settled over Homs," Mr Erdogan said.

In Brussels, European Union member states are working on a new round of sanctions against Syria, which they hope to conclude by February 27.

The sanctions will include a freeze on the Syrian central bank's assets and most transactions with it, and ban the import and export of phosphates, diamonds, gold and other precious metals.