Middle East

Syria crisis: Erdogan steps up Turkey pressure on Assad

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his AK Party at the parliament in Ankara, 15 November.
Image caption Mr Erdogan has become increasingly critical of Syria in recent months

Turkey has stepped up its pressure on neighbouring Syria over the crackdown on protests by the Damascus government.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the future could not be built on "the blood of the oppressed", and condemned attacks on Turkish missions in Syria.

Meanwhile, Turkey's energy minister announced that joint oil exploration projects with Syria had been halted.

Damascus is also facing increasing pressure from the Arab League, which has suspended its membership.

On Monday, King Abdullah of Jordan became the first Arab leader to openly urge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stand down.

The UN says more than 3,500 people have died since the start of the protests against President Assad in March.

The Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs and militants.

In an apparent show of goodwill on Tuesday, the authorities freed 1,180 people who had been arrested during protests, Syrian state media reported. The state news agency said those released had no "blood on their hands".

The release of prisoners is among the demands of the Arab League, which is due to meet again on Wednesday.

Tragedy foretold

On Monday, Mr Erdogan - who once cultivated close ties with Syria - said Ankara had abandoned hope that Bashar al-Assad would respond to international demands to stop using violence.

"Bashar Assad should see the tragic ends of the ones who declared war against their own people," Mr Erdogan told MPs of his AK Party. "I want to remind him that future cannot be built on the blood of the oppressed."

History, Mr Erdogan added, would "will mark these leaders as the leaders who feed on blood".

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz announced that Ankara had shelved plans for Turkey's TPAO petroleum company to explore oil with Syria's state oil company.

Mr Yildiz also threatened to stop Turkey's electricity exports to Syria.

"Right now, we are providing electricity" to Syria, Mr Yildiz said. "If [Syria] continues on this course, then we might have to reconsider these decisions."

The White House said it welcomed the "strong stance Turkey has taken".

"Turkey's comments today further point to the fact that President Assad is isolated," President Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters.

'Malicious' sidelining

The moves follow attacks on Turkish diplomatic missions in Damascus and the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Latakia by supporters of Mr Assad at the weekend.

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Media captionKing Abdullah's comments came in an exclusive BBC interview

The attackers expressed anger at Turkey's decision to support the Arab League's decision to suspend Syria.

Turkey is not a member of the league, but its foreign minister is to meet his Arab League counterparts during Wednesday's meeting in Morocco.

The Syrian government condemned its suspension as "shameful and malicious", and accused other Arab countries of conspiring with the West to undermine the regime.

In his interview with the BBC on Monday, King Abdullah said that if he were in Mr Assad's position, he would make sure that "whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status quo".

He urged President Assad to begin talks on an orderly transfer of power.

The call came on one of the bloodiest days since the unrest began. Activists said at least 70 people were killed in fighting that reportedly included a gun battle between security forces and army defectors in the restive southern province of Deraa.

Many Western powers have urged President Assad to stand down. However Russia has so far refused to do so.

On Tuesday, Syrian opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun had talks with officials in Moscow but said he had failed to convince them to change their position.

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