Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has once again pushed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to implement the reforms his administration has pledged in response to growing anti-government protests, saying Syria should avoid actions that could lead to the division of the country.
Erdoğan, speaking in a televised interview late on Sunday evening, lamented Assad's failure to bring to life reforms the Syrian president never objects to. “He says, ‘I will do it.' But I am having a hard time understanding if he is being prevented from doing it or if he is hesitating,” Erdoğan said in the interview broadcast on private Show TV.
Noting that the unrest in Syria seems unlikely to subside, Erdoğan said Turkey is staying in touch with the Syrian authorities to push them to carry out the reforms. “We do not want Syria to be divided. Syria should not allow any development that could lead to the division of the country,” he said.
Erdoğan described the protests as a “fight for freedom” and reiterated that Assad should present a clear stance regarding the reforms. “We do not want to see another Hama massacre,” Erdoğan said, referring to a deadly 1982 crackdown in the town of Hama to quell a revolt by the Sunni Muslim community against the regime. “It will be very difficult for Syria to deal with the consequences if such a tragedy repeats itself.”
Turkey has been urging Assad, who has built very close ties with Turkey over the past few years, to conduct reforms to respond to protesters' demands for change. Ankara is concerned that it may have to have its share from the unrest in neighboring Syria in the form of an influx of refugees.
On Friday, 263 Syrians crossed the border into Turkey, fleeing from the Syrian security forces' deadly crackdown on protests. Hundreds are believed to have died in the unrest so far.
Erdoğan has said Turkey will not close its doors to Syrian refugees and added that Turkish authorities are already working on measures so as to be prepared if more refugees arrive from Syria.
Separately, President Abdullah Gül, also speaking on Monday, said Turkey is preparing to deal with a possible influx of refugees, saying authorities are taking measures to be ready for the “worst-case scenario.”
The 263 Syrians are now living in a small camp set up in Hatay province.
‘Kanal İstanbul a matter of sovereignty'
Erdoğan also commented on a debate over his government's latest plan to build a second strait in İstanbul, Kanal İstanbul.
Russia has said Turkey should respect the terms of the 1936 Montreaux Convention, which regulates sea traffic through the Turkish Straits by guaranteeing the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime and restricting the passage of non-Turkish military vessels.
“No one can cast a shadow on our sovereignty. Kanal İstanbul is the result of a new arrangement we will carry out in İstanbul as a sovereign country,” Erdoğan said.