April 8, 2012

The Road to Tehran Goes Through Damascus

Turkey Warns of 'Steps' If Syria Mayhem Doesn't End

AFPApril 8, 2012

Turkey's prime minister has warned of as yet unspecified "steps" if the government of neighbouring Syria fails to abide by an April 10 deadline to cease violence, local media reported on Sunday.

"We will patiently follow the process until April 10," Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying by daily Hurriyet.

But "we will implement steps" if violence does not stop after that, he added.

The Turkish premier did not specify what measures his government would take, but the mass influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian unrest has raised alarm in Ankara which has voiced support for the Syrian opposition.

Different scenarios are being floated by the press, including the setting up of a buffer zone along the border with Syria to protect refugees.

More than 9,000 people have died in Syria in more than a year of unrest, according to UN figures, as President Bashar al-Assad's regime has cracked down on protesters and armed rebels, drawing international condemnation.

Fighting has raged on despite Damascus accepting an April 10 deadline to withdraw forces from protest hubs as part of a ceasefire plan brokered by the UN and Arab League peace envoy, former UN chief Kofi Annan.

Nearly 130 people were reported killed across Syria on Saturday -- three days ahead of the deadline to cease fire and pull back.

The escalating violence has triggered a sharp surge in the number of Syrian refugees crossing into Turkey.

Last week saw a record number of some 2,800 Syrians enter Turkey in a 36-hour period to escape a helicopter-backed assault by Syrian troops.

The total number of refugees now in Turkish camps near the Syrian border exceeds 24,000, according to official figures provided by the Ankara government.

Turkey, a former ally to Damascus, has cut off contact with Assad.

Iraqi minister holds talks for progress in Turkey ties

April 7, 2012

A senior Iraqi minister met Turkish officials this week for talks on bilateral ties already strained over a political crisis engulfing neighbouring Iraq, a Turkish diplomat said Saturday.

Iraqi National Security Minister Falih al-Fayyad held closed-door talks in Istanbul and Ankara beginning April 3 with a number of officials including foreign and interior ministers, said the diplomat, who declined to be named.

"That was a planned trip during which bilateral relations, as well as the crisis in neighbouring Syria were discussed," he added.

The talks aimed to achieve progress in the long-standing political strains between Turkey and Iraq's Shiite government, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.

Fayyad conveyed his prime minister's willingness to repair ties with the Ankara government, according to the report which was neither confirmed nor denied by the Turkish foreign ministry.

Turkish-Iraqi ties have been marred by a political crisis that has stoked sectarian tensions in Iraq.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan angered his Iraqi counterpart, Nuri al-Maliki, by phoning him on January 10 about a standoff with his Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is accused of running a death squad.

As Erdogan warned Iraqi leaders against fomenting sectarian tensions, Maliki accused Ankara of intervening in Iraqi affairs and the two countries have called in each others' respective ambassadors to express their anger.

Iraq has been mired in political crisis since US forces withdrew from the country on December 18, pitting the Shiite-led government against the main Sunni-backed political bloc Iraqiya.

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