Turkish prime minister tells Syria's Assad to step down

Turkey's prime minister Tayyip Erdogan says Syrian president Bashar al-Assad should resign for the sake of regional peace.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his party members at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 22. Erdogan said for the first time that Syria's president must step down over the country's brutal crackdown on dissent, ratcheting up the pressure on the increasingly isolated Bashar Assad.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called on Tuesday for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down for the sake of peace in the region and said Turkey could not turn its back on the Syrian people.

Erdogan said Assad should learn a lesson from the fate of Muammar Gaddafi -- the Libyan leader toppled by rebels in August and killed after his capture last month -- and that criticism of the Syrian government's violent crackdown on protesters did not amount to a call for international military intervention.

In a further signal Turkey was stepping up pressure on its one-time ally, Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk reported that Turkey's land forces commander had travelled to a city near the Syrian border to inspect Turkish frontier troops.

"Without spilling any more blood, without causing any more injustice, for the sake of peace for the people, the country and the region, finally step down," Erdogan said in a speech aimed directly at Assad.

"We do not have eyes on any country's land, we have no desire to interfere in any country's internal affairs.

"But when a people is persecuted, especially a people that are our relatives, our brothers, and with whom we share a 910 km border, we absolutely cannot pretend nothing is happening and turn our backs," Erdogan said.

After long courting Assad, Turkey has in recent months stepped up criticism over its neighbour's failure to end an eight-month crackdown on protests and implement promised democratic reforms.

Turkish leaders have taken aim at the Syrian leader almost every day since Turkish diplomatic missions inside Syria were assaulted by pro-Assad crowds earlier this month. Erdogan called on Assad again to find the perpetrators for those raids and for an attack on a bus carrying Turkish pilgrims in Syria on Monday.

In an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Syria was now at a "dead end" and that change was "inevitable" but said that change should not come about through external intervention.

Erdogan said Turkey's criticism of Assad was not a call for outside interference. "Criticising a dictator who persecutes and turns his weapons on his own people is not interfering in internal affairs, it is not a call to the world for a military intervention," he said.

"We want nothing more than peace and welfare for a people who are our brothers."

While Turkey is opposed to outside intervention, it has met with Syrian opposition groups and allows them to operate in Turkish cities. It has also given refuge to Syrian army defectors but denies it is supporting an armed resistance.

On Tuesday, CNN Turk reported the commanding general of Turkey's land force's was in the southern city of Sanliurfa near the Syrian border to inspect troops. It gave no more details.

Turkish newspapers quoted officials at the weekend saying Turkey could set up a no-fly or buffer zone in Syrian territory to protect people from Assad's security forces, in order to head off a potential mass exodus of refugees from Syria.

There are currently more than 7,000 Syrian refugees living in camps inside Turkey. Ankara has bad memories of the 1991 Gulf War, when some 500,000 Iraqi refugees fled to Turkey to escape Saddam Hussein's forces.

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