Former ally compares Syria’s crackdown to Libya’s

Turkey’s leader speaks as raids target protesters

By Bassem Mroue
Associated Press / August 18, 2011

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BEIRUT - Turkey’s prime minister compared Syria’s president to Libya’s Moammar Khadafy yesterday, as Damascus defied international calls to end the crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising.

President Bashar Assad has unleashed tanks, ground troops, and snipers in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas. The military assault has escalated dramatically since the start of the holy month of Ramadan in August, killing hundreds and detaining thousands.

“We made our calls [to Khadafy] but unfortunately we got no result,’’ Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday. “The same thing is happening with Syria at the moment.’’

The conflict in Libya, which began a month before Syria’s unrest, has descended into a civil war as Khadafy defies calls to end the bloodshed.

Yesterday, Erdogan said he personally spoke to Assad and sent his foreign minister to Damascus, but “despite all of this, they are continuing to strike civilians.’’

Turkey, a neighbor and former close ally of Syria, has been increasingly frustrated with Assad’s crackdown. But Turkey, Syria’s most important trade partner, has not joined the United States and Europe in imposing sanctions.

With tensions rising, the United Nations said it has temporarily withdrawn about two dozen nonessential international staff from Syria because of security concerns. UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq also said some family members of UN staff have been relocated to other countries.

The government insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out terrorists fomenting unrest in the country. In comments carried on the state-run news agency, Assad appeared to lash out at the international reproach, saying his country will not give up its “dignity and sovereignty.’’

Human rights groups and witnesses accuse Syrian troops of firing on largely unarmed protesters and say more than 1,800 civilians have been killed since mid-March.

In Latakia, a Mediterranean port city that has been subjected to a four-day military assault, security centers were overflowing with detainees yesterday, and authorities held hundreds of other prisoners in the city’s main football stadium and a movie theater, said Rami Abdul-Raham, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Detention centers are packed,’’ he said.

A woman in Latakia died of her wounds yesterday, two days after she was injured, according to the observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group. The group said a man was killed in the city late Tuesday.

In the northwestern Idlib Province, a bullet killed a man as he stood on his balcony, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that has a network of people on the ground. Troops were carrying out raids in the area at the time.

The regime’s recent military operations have also targeted the central city of Homs, where security forces shot dead one person and wounded three during raids yesterday, according to the group.

In Damascus, the regime focused its raids on the primarily Kurdish neighborhood of Rukneddine, where security forces detained dozens after cutting electricity in the area, the group said. The neighborhood has witnessed intense antiregime protests in the past weeks.

Amateur videos posted online showed Syrian soldiers in pickup trucks as they drove down a street, apparently in Latakia. The troops were greeted in the al-Ramel neighborhood by Assad supporters chanting “our souls and our blood we sacrifice for you, Bashar.’’

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