Turkish PM Calls on Syria’s Assad to Step Down

Posted November 22nd, 2011 at 7:25 am (UTC-5)
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Turkey's prime minister has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech Tuesday that Mr. Assad – a former close ally – should cede power before more blood is shed “for the welfare of your own people and the region.”

It was the first call from regional power Turkey for the Syrian leader to resign. Ankara has been increasingly critical of Syria's brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Relations between the two countries continued to deteriorate Monday after gunmen in northern Syria opened fire on a convoy of buses carrying Turkish pilgrims back from the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Two Turkish citizens were wounded in the attack.

Also Monday, Syria's envoy to the United Nations harshly criticized a draft resolution to the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee condemning the eight-month-long crackdown on opposition protests.

Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said the document, crafted by Germany, Britain and France, was introduced “in the context of declaring a political, media, and diplomatic war on Syria.”

Germany's U.N. Ambassador, who introduced the nonbinding resolution, said 60 countries are co-sponsoring the document, including Syria's fellow Arab nations of Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Predominately Muslim Turkey is also co-sponsoring it.

The General Assembly's human rights committee is scheduled to vote on the document later Tuesday.

The resolution calls on Damascus to implement the Arab initiative agreed to earlier this month. It also strongly condemns “the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders.”

Russia's Foreign Ministry Monday accused Western nations of undermining the chances for a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis by urging Mr. Assad's opponents not to seek compromise with the government. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated the Russian government position that the Syrian opposition shares responsibility for the violence and should face international pressure to enter talks.

The Arab League, which earlier this month suspended Syria's membership in the 22-member grouping, plans to meet again Thursday to discuss the Syrian crisis.

Damascus has been facing mounting international pressure to end the unrest. The United Nations says the crackdown has resulted in more than 3,500 deaths.