Turkish premier: Syrian regime weaker every day

Associated Press Modified: May 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm •  Published: May 6, 2012
Advertisement
;

BEIRUT (AP) — President Bashar Assad's grip on Syria is getting weaker by the day and "victory is close," Turkey's prime minister said Sunday in an address to thousands of cheering Syrians who fled a brutal crackdown on an anti-regime uprising.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's cross-border taunt during a rare visit to a refugee camp, delivered while standing atop a bus and protected by snipers on rooftops, came a day before Syria was to hold parliament elections.

The regime has portrayed the vote for a 250-member parliament as a sign of its willingness to carry out democratic reforms. Syria's opposition dismissed the election Sunday as a cynical attempt to salvage Assad's tattered legitimacy and asked voters to stay away.

Assad's opponents say elections cannot be held under the threat of gunfire. Activists said at least five people were killed by army gunfire Sunday. In late March, the U.N. said 9,000 people have been killed during the conflict, now in its 14th month.

"We think the elections have no credibility at all in the middle of a situation where the regime is killing the population," said Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile. "It is an insult to the democratic process."

An April 12 truce that was part of a peace plan for Syria by special envoy Kofi Annan has failed to take hold. Even so, the international community has not declared Annan's plan a failure, perhaps in part because it can't agree on an alternative.

U.N. officials hope a wider deployment of up to 300 international truce monitors will gradually calm the situation. About 40 observers are currently in Syria.

U.N. observers visited the towns of Zabadani and Dael on Sunday, and regime forces fired randomly into Dael after they left, wounding three people, said Adel, a local activist.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said four people were killed by regime gunfire in the city of Homs and a fifth in an arrest raid in the capital of Damascus.

Western powers and their allies in the region, including Turkey, want Assad to step down, but are for now unwilling to use force against him. Assad allies Russia and China are expected to shield the regime from harsher diplomatic sanctions.

Despite the deadlock, Erdogan delivered a hopeful speech Sunday to thousands of Syrian refugees being sheltered by Turkey.

"Bashar is losing blood day by day," Erdogan told a crowd at a camp near the town of Kilis, just across from Syria. "Sooner or later, those who have oppressed our Syrian brothers will be accounted for before their nation. Your victory is close."

Turkey hosts around 23,000 Syrian refugees, who live in several tent camps along the border.

The camp Erdogan visited houses more than 9,500 refugees. Two were killed there by cross-border fire from Syria last month. It is the most organized of the camps and looks like a small town with wide streets, soup kitchens, a health clinic and even a makeshift barber shop.