Erdogan urged Assad to pursue democratic reforms, report


The Turkish prime minister has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and advised him to make democratic reforms as Turkey’s close neighbor is shaken by anti-government protests inspired by the popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

Ankara is anxious about the possibility the protests could turn into a sectarian clash. “The winds of change are everywhere. During my last visit to Syria I talked with Assad and mentioned that a similar process might develop in his country and that there was a threat of a sectarian approach. Now we see that situation is happening,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told the daily Hürriyet on Tuesday.

“I told him to take lessons from what has been happening in the region,” he said. Assad should find a different way than the other leaders in the region, by approaching his people with a democratic attitude, Erdoğan said.

Protests spread on Monday in Syria from the city of Deraa, where five people have been killed, to three nearby towns. The protests are the most serious domestic challenge yet to President Assad. The Assad family, members of the prominent Alevi minority, rules the Sunni-dominated country.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also pointed out how vital for Turkey it would be if a wave of unrest hit Syria. “Syria is on an important threshold. We hope problems between the people and the administration [in Syria] can be handled without trouble,” Turkey’s foreign minister said in an interview on CNNTürk late Monday.