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Turkey in contact with Syria over reform: FM

Turkey continues to support Assad's government, but looks for 'concrete steps' towards reform

AFP , Friday 24 Jun 2011
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Turkey is in continuing contact with Syria to launch reforms and end a bloody turmoil that has forced nearly 12,000 people to flee to Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying Friday.

A recent speech by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "included positive elements in terms of indication of reform. But it is very important that concrete steps are taken in practice. Our contacts within this context are continuing," Davutoglu said in remarks carried by Anatolia news agency.

"We hope that Syria will succeed in emerging stronger from this process by reforming itself... We will do our best for this to happen," he said.

Davutoglu said he spoke to his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem Thursday to convey Turkey's "concerns and thoughts" about the situation on the border, according to Anatolia. He was referring to a new influx of refugees Thursday after Syrian troops backed by tanks entered a border zone where thousands fleeing a bloody crackdown on anti-regime protesters were camping, hesitant to cross to Turkey.

Turkish officials said Friday that 1,578 people had crossed the border, bringing the total number of Syrians sheltering in tent camps in Turkey to 11,739.
Crammed into a narrow strip along the Turkish frontier, the displaced Syrians have braved squalid conditions, sleeping rough or in makeshift shelters of branches and plastic sheets, and surviving on scarce food and water. They have hesitated to cross to Turkey, gripped by uncertainty over a future on foreign soil and wary of leaving their property behind.

Ankara has promised that no Syrian seeking refuge will be turned away. "We see these brothers of ours not as any refugee group but as our guests. Whenever their stay ends... we will do our best for them to return home in peace," Davutoglu said.

Ankara, whose ties with Damascus have flourished in recent years, has insisted that democratic transition in Syria should take place under Assad's leadership and stopped short of calling for his departure.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Damascus of perpetrating an "atrocity" against demonstrators, the harshest remark yet in Ankara's criticism of a deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests sweeping Syria since March.

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