Turkey unveils economic sanctions against Syria, may consider more

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu speaks during a news conference in Ankara. . (Photo: Reuters)

November 30, 2011, Wednesday/ 10:36:00

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced a series of sanctions against the Syrian regime due to its military crackdown on an eight-month uprising on Wednesday morning, which the foreign minister said are measures against the Syrian administration and will not harm the Syrian people.

»» Click here for an English translation of Foreign Minister Davutoğlu's statement on sanctions against Syria.

Ankara joined the Arab League and Western powers in imposing nine economic sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government on Wednesday to put more pressure on the Syrian administration. Davutoğlu said at a news conference that Turkey, once a close friend of Damascus, would block the delivery of all weapons and military equipment to Damascus as part of measures aimed at persuading Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to end a violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters. “All shipment of arms and military equipment through Turkey's land, airspace and seas ... will be prevented,” he said. Davutoğlu also said a cooperation agreement with Syria was being suspended until there was a new government in place.

“Until a legitimate government which is at peace with its people is in charge in Syria, the mechanism of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council has been suspended,” Davutoğlu said, adding that Assad's government had come “to the end of the road.” Davutoglu also said Wednesday that Turkey was imposing a travel ban in Turkey and freezing the assets of “certain officials who are members of the main cadre of leaders, who are the subject of claims of exerting violence against the people or of resorting to illegitimate means.”

Businessmen “strongly supporting” the regime would also be sanctioned, Davutoğlu said, in a direct threat to a mainstay of regime support. He said Ankara was suspending all ties to the Syrian Central Bank, freezing any Syrian government assets in Turkey and suspending any loan deals. Future dealing with the Syrian Trade Bank would be suspended, while current deals would continue, Davutoğlu added.

The foreign minister said Turkey would also consider taking additional measures in the future. In imposing these sanctions, Davutoğlu said Ankara had taken “meticulous care” to not inflict suffering on the Syrian people because of the mistakes of the government. “We will also evaluate additional measures that we can take after this, depending on the behavior of the Syrian government, with the same meticulousness,” he said.

Davutoğlu also said the Syrian regime has reached its end by ignoring calls from the international community to stop its bloody crackdown on protesters. “Every bullet fired, every bombed mosque has eliminated the legitimacy of the Syrian leadership and has widened the gap between us,” Davutoğlu said. “Syria has squandered the last chance that it was given.”

Davutoğlu added that Syria “has entered a vicious circle of violence,” despite warnings from Turkey. “Syria must immediately cease using force against the people and [military] forces must immediately withdraw from cities,” Davutoğlu said.

Turkey is Syria’s largest trading partner, and the countries did $2.4 billion in trade last year, according to the Turkish Embassy in Damascus. The sanctions will bite an already ailing economy in Syria. Turkey’s move follows in the wake of sanctions announced by the Arab League. In an unprecedented move against a fellow Arab state, the 22-member Arab League approved sanctions Sunday to pressure the regime to end its suppression of an eight-month-old revolt. The sanctions by Syria’s Arab neighbors include cutting off transactions with the Syria’s central bank, and are expected to squeeze an ailing economy that already is under sanction by the US and the European Union.

Syria is facing mounting international pressure to end its violent suppression of protests against Assad, which the UN says has killed more than 3,500 people since March. The EU and the United States have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Assad and his regime, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil. Ankara has said any sanctions would not hurt the Syrian people and has ruled out cutting off electricity and water supplies. It has also said civil aviation by Turkish Airlines (THY) to Damascus will continue.

Davutoğlu said Turkey would continue to stand by the Syrian people during this “difficult period.” “Our desire is that the Syrian government realizes the only way out of this dead end that they are now at is to immediately meet the legitimate demands of the people and to end the violence and repression against the civilian population,” he said.

“We wish success to the Syrian people in this legitimate struggle,” he added.

Commenting on Turkey’s newly introduced sanctions against Damascus, President Abdullah Gül said on Wednesday that “Turkey is acting carefully about Syria” and underlined that the sanctions do not include humanitarian issues such as water and electricity supplies. “There is instability in Syria and the legitimate demands of Syrian people must be met to end it,” he said at a press conference he held at Ankara’s Esenboğa Airport before his departure for Kyrgyzstan for an official visit. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç also said Wednesday that Turkey’s measures against Syria assured that Turkey’s Syrian brothers would not be negatively affected. Speaking at the Turkish-Arab Media Forum in İstanbul, Arınç said although the Turkish government is currently at odds with the Syrian administration, “the people of Syria are the brothers of the Turkish people.” Turkey was once one of Assad’s closest allies, but the Turkish government has gradually lost patience with him. Turkey now hosts Syrian army defectors and an umbrella opposition group. Ankara has gradually toughened its criticism of the Syrian regime for its brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests. Turkish leaders have on many occasions called on Assad to end the crackdown and step down.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once again said in remarks broadcast on Tuesday evening that Turkey cannot remain silent in the face of the ongoing violence in Syria. “The more peaceful Syria is the more peaceful Turkey is. What is taking place in Syria is not just an internal matter of Syria as some circles claim,” Erdoğan said during his national address.

“We cannot watch what is going on in a country with which we have such deep-rooted relations in silence,” Erdoğan added.

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