Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that President Bashar Assad's grip on Syria is getting weaker by the day and “victory is close,” according to a report in The Associated Press.
Erdogan’s remarks were made in an address to thousands of cheering Syrians who fled a brutal crackdown on an anti-regime uprising.
“Bashar is losing blood day by day,” Erdogan was quoted by AP as having told a crowd at a refugee 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.
Erdogan’s comments 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, however, dismissed the election on 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.
“We think the elections have no credibility at all in the middle of a situation where the regime is killing the population,” Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, told AP. “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. UN officials hope a wider deployment of up to 300 international truce monitors will gradually calm the situation. About 40 observers are currently in Syria.
According to the AP report, UN observers visited the towns of Zabadani and Dael on Sunday, and regime forces fired randomly into Dael after they left, wounding three people.
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.
Monday's elections come three months after the adoption of a new constitution that allows the formation of political parties to compete with Assad's ruling Baath party and limits a president to two seven-year terms. Assad succeeded his father, and the two have been in power for a total of 42 years.
Opposition leaders said any reforms without their input are a farce.