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Turkey to announce sanctions on Syria soon

Syria will follow the Arab League's crackdown on Syria with its own measures against Assad's regime

AFP , Tuesday 29 Nov 2011

Turkey will soon announce a set of sanctions against the Syrian regime while opposing any military option but staying ready for any scenario.

"The steps to be taken (against Damascus) have been clarified" at a cabinet meeting this week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday in a news conference. "We will announce them after further consultations with the president and the prime minister," he added.

Turkey's move comes after Arab foreign ministers Sunday agreed sweeping sanctions designed to cripple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which has defied international pressure to halt a bloody crackdown on protests.

"We are supporting the decisions made by the Arab League. We'll implement them to a great extent," said Davutoglu, adding that there might be some "nuances" because of Turkey's position as a neighbour of Syria.

Turkey has already halted joint oil exploration with Syria and threatened to cut electric power supplies. Davutoglu insisted that measures contemplated by Turkey would not harm civilians and that Ankara was not considering halting the delivery of water from the Euphrates River to Syria.

Earlier Tuesday, Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey was seeking alternative routes to bypass Syria for regional trade if conditions in the neighbouring country deteriorate. "If conditions aggravate in Syria, we are planning to shift (road) transport to Iraq by opening new gates," he was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

Syria is a transit country for Turkey's trade with Middle Eastern countries. Turkey and Syria abolished visa requirements in 2009. Current trade volume between Turkey and Syria stands at around 2.5 billion dollars (1.87 billion euros), favourable to Turkey, experts say. The one-time allies had vowed to raise it to five billion dollars in 2012.

But the sanctions planned by Ankara aimed at punishing the Syrian regime for its ongoing violence, which has claimed more than 3,500 lives according to the United Nations, are likely to undermine this objective.

Turkey is increasingly concerned about the Syrian regime's crackdown on dissidents and fears an influx of refugees. Davutoglu, in a televised interview, voiced opposition to any military intervention in Syria but said Turkey was ready "for every scenario."

"If hundreds of thousands of people flee to our border, this would of course create a different situation," he said. "Some steps could be taken then together with the international community," he said when asked whether Turkey was mulling the creation of a buffer zone.

In separate remarks, Davutoglu however said measures such as creating a buffer zone were not on the government's agenda "for now." Ankara has stepped up criticism of Assad's crackdown on opposition protests since Turkish diplomatic missions came under attack by pro-government demonstrators in several Syrian cities earlier this month.

Tensions worsened when two busloads of Turkish pilgrims who were in Syria on their way back from the hajj in Mecca were attacked by Syrian gunmen. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week urged his one-time ally to step down, becoming the second regional leader to do so after Jordan's King Abdullah.

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