PM Erdoğan compares Syria’s Assad with Gaddafi

August 18, 2011, Thursday/ 17:08:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN WITH AP

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has compared Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, as Damascus defies international calls to end the crackdown on a five-month-old uprising.

Syrian President Assad has unleashed tanks, ground troops and snipers in an attempt to regain control in rebellious areas. The military assault has escalated dramatically since the start of the holy month of Ramadan in August, killing hundreds and detaining thousands.

“We made our calls [upon Gaddafi], but unfortunately we got no result,” Erdoğan said on Wednesday in İstanbul while speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a gathering of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Somalia.

“The same thing is happening in Syria at the moment,” Erdoğan said.

The conflict in Libya, which began a month before unrest broke out in Syria, has descended into a civil war as Gaddafi defies calls to end the bloodshed.

Erdoğan also underlined that he personally spoke to Assad and sent his foreign minister to Damascus, but “despite all of this, they are continuing to strike civilians.”

Turkey, a neighbor and former close ally of Syria, has been increasingly frustrated with Damascus' crackdown. Eyes turned to a regular meeting on Thursday of Turkey's National Security Council (MGK), which brings together Turkey's top political leaders and military commanders, as the council was expected to draw up steps to be taken in response to Assad's rebuff of Ankara's firm warnings. The Turkish ambassador to Syria, Ömer Önhon, also attended the meeting and was briefed by MGK members on the latest developments in Syria.

Turkish officials stated it is still too early to call on Assad to step down but underlined that patience is running out fast, meaning that Ankara may soon call for his departure. The MGK meeting, which was still going on when Today's Zaman went to print, was expected to focus on possible sanctions against Syria, with officials underlining that such sanctions will target the Syrian administration and not harm the Syrian people.

Erdoğan's remarks likening Assad to Gaddafi were echoed in Washington, too.

“If you look carefully at what Prime Minister Erdoğan said this morning, you would see he was referring to the fact that the international community has been calling for reform and a transition of power for a long time. These leaders not only didn't listen, but increased the violence, increased the brutality towards their own people, and that was the situation that he was describing, as I read his statement. Obviously, he speaks for himself,” Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the US State Department, told reporters at a daily briefing on Thursday.

“We've said for many days, many weeks that our collaboration, our coordination with Turkey has been excellent on this issue, and it continues to be excellent,” Nuland added.

Officials in Washington said preparations were in place for the White House to issue a statement Thursday demanding that Assad step down.

The administration had planned to make the announcement last week but postponed it largely at the request of Syria's neighbor Turkey, which asked for more time to try to convince Assad to reform, and because Clinton and other officials argued it was important to build a global consensus that Assad must go, The Associated Press reported. Clinton on Tuesday publicly questioned the effectiveness of the United States acting alone.

“It is not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go,” she said. “If other people say it, if Turkey says it, if [Saudi] King Abdullah says it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it.”

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