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Turkish leader calls for immediate humanitarian corridors in Syria

March 6, 2012 | 11:37 am

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Turkish prime minister called Tuesday for the immediate opening of paths to provide humanitarian aid in neighboring Syria and condemned the regime for its heavy-handed treatment of dissidents, according to news reports.

Syria’s army is “butchering its own people, pointing its guns at the masses,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told lawmakers from his party in Ankara, the capital, Bloomberg News reported.

Ensuring that help gets to Syrians has been a sticking point: The International Committee of the Red Cross has continued to call for a daily two-hour “humanitarian pause” in the fighting to evacuate the wounded, to no avail.

Syrian authorities have allowed the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent access to some areas but have blocked them from a former rebel stronghold in the central city of Homs. Opposition activists say the regime is carrying out revenge attacks in the area, an assertion that could not be independently verified.

Erdogan has become one of the more vocal critics of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a former ally. Erdogan suffered some embarrassment after originally backing strongman Moammar Kadafi in Libya. One expert said he is trying to avoid the same story in Syria.

"They want to be ahead of the curve," said Henri J. Barkey, an international relations professor at Lehigh University. "Why support a regime that you think is doomed?"

Yet as other countries ramp up pressure on Syria, Turkey has been overshadowed in the international stage, possibly because Erdogan was sidelined by minor surgery. With his newest words, the Turkish leader is reviving his pressure on the embattled regime.

For nearly a year, Syria has been racked by an uprising against the Assad regime. The United Nations has accused the government of crimes against humanity, including the torture and killing of children and shooting unarmed protesters. Syria argues it is defending itself against armed terrorists.

Though Erdogan has spoken up, the Turkish public hasn't mobilized over the alleged atrocities in Syria, Barkey said. Turks have been more worried about the economic and political fallout from any military strike on Syria, including whether Syrian Kurds would be spurred to seek autonomy. Turkey has its own minority Kurdish population that is often at odds with the central government.

The Turkish government reportedly estimates that 11,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey since the uprising began almost a year ago.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers of his party at parliament in Ankara on Tuesday. Credit: Adem Altan / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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