Erdogan Calls Assad, Urges End to Crackdown


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Tuesday and urged him to stop a bloody crackdown on protesters and launch reforms, Anatolia news agency reported.

Erdogan told the Syrian leader to "refrain from violence and end the unrest" that has swept Syria since anti-regime protests erupted in March, the report said.

Erdogan stressed "it would be useful to draw up a timetable of reforms as soon as possible and urgently implement them," it added.

The two leaders have enjoyed close personal ties amid flourishing Turkish-Syrian ties in recent years, but Ankara's insistent calls on Damascus to initiate reforms have gone unheeded so far.

Last week, Erdogan toughened his tone, accusing the Syrian regime of perpetrating an "atrocity" against the demonstrators, as thousands of fleeing Syrians crossed into Turkey to seek refuge from bloodshed.

Most of them came from Jisr al-Shughour, a flashpoint city in the anti-regime uprising roughly 40 kilometers from the Turkish border, where, the Syrian authorities say, 120 police and troops were massacred.

Refugees said Monday that troops were burning crops and slaughtering livestock in villages near Jisr al-Shughour, the main focus of a crackdown which began at the weekend.

Ankara has insisted that democratic transition in Syria should take place under Assad's leadership and its criticism of the bloodshed has stopped short of calling for his departure.