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Turkish leader to Syria's Assad: Don't 'feed on blood'

November 15, 2011 | 10:35 am

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned up the rhetorical heat Tuesday on Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Those who fire on their own people will go down in history as leaders who feed on blood,” Erdogan warned the beleaguered Syrian leader, according to the Turkish English-language daily Zaman. “You are on the same path.”

Erdogan has already endorsed Syria’s “glorious resistance,” but Tuesday’s comments seemed to take a more personal tone, as the prime minister addressed Assad by his first name.

Zaman also reported that Turkey has abandoned oil-exploration plans with Syria and is considering ending sales of electricity to its neighbor. A European oil embargo has already battered Syria’s oil industry, a crucial source of revenue.

“Nobody now expects the [Syrian] people’s demands to be met,” Erdogan declared during a meeting of his Justice and Development Party.  “We all want the Syrian administration, which is now on a knife-edge, to turn back from the edge of the cliff.”

But Erdogan stopped short of demanding Assad’s resignation, as Jordan's King Abdullah, President Obama and other Western leaders have done. Nor has Erdogan delivered on threats to impose major economic sanctions against Syria, which shares a more than 500-mile border with Turkey, a regional powerhouse.

Erdogan was once an ally of Assad, but Ankara has made a U-turn and become a harsh critic of the regime's violent crackdown on dissent. Turkey has provided shelter to Syrian dissidents, houses thousands of refugees and hosts a group of Syrian army defectors that says it is conducting armed assaults on Syrian security forces.

The Turkish prime minister expressed outrage at attacks by pro-Assad loyalists on Turkish diplomatic missions in Syria following the Arab League’s move Saturday to suspend Syria. Turkey is not a league member, but Ankara applauded the league’s decision.

The Turkish prime minister seemed especially appalled that Assad loyalists in Syria had burned a Turkish flag, an act that inflamed nationalist feeling.

“I want to make this clear to the Assad regime: Throughout history, those who have tried to touch the Turkish flag were given their response. They will receive a response in the future as well,” Erdogan thundered. “Once again, we strongly condemn these attacks. We want the Syrian regime not only to apologize, but also to find the culprits.”

Syria has apologized for the attacks on Turkish and other diplomatic missions and has vowed to bolster security.

The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed in the Syrian government's crackdown on protesters. Damascus blames Islamic "terrorists" for the violence.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of Parliament from his Justice and Development Party in Ankara on Tuesday. Credit: Adem Altan / AFP / Getty Images

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