Erdogan tells Syrian refugees victory is near

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2012, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2012, 3:58pm

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Syrian refugees on Sunday that victory over the “tyrant” President Bashar al-Assad was at hand.

“I can see it clearly that the help of God is near,” Erdogan said in televised remarks at Turkey’s Akcakale refugee camp in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa.

Erdogan was welcomed to the 25,000-people settlement by thousands of cheering Syrians, who were waving Turkish flags and holding a giant portrait of him.

“You have suffered so much but do not despair,” Erdogan said.

The Turkish leader was accompanied by Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who flanked the premier along with several of Erdogan’s deputies.

Erdogan’s visit was the first since Syrian mortars killed five Turks on October 3 in Akcakale, setting off weeks of artillery attacks from both sides of the border.

Turkey is currently home to almost 150,000 Syrians who have fled their country, where the 21-month old conflict has claimed 45,000 lives.

Erdogan said the number of refugees was likely to be as high as 220,000, with many Syrians renting homes in nearby cities rather than staying at the refugee camps.

“We know that tyrant Syrian regime, tyrant Bashar, have martyred close to 50,000 Syrians,” Erdogan said to applause from the refugees.

“We will be standing beside you until the very end,” he said.

Erdogan, a former ally, became a vocal and fierce critic of the Assad regime when its crackdown on protests turned deadly, and has joined in Arab and Western calls for his ouster.