Erdogan: 'Syria's Assad is a Terrorist, Not a Politician'
In an interview with a Turkish newspaper on Monday, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a jab at Bashar Assad, saying the Syrian president is a terrorist and no longer a political figure.
“I don’t regard Bashar al-Assad as a politician any more. Assad is a terrorist who uses state terror," Erdogan told Hurriyet after a meeting with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in Ankara. "A person who has killed 110,000 of his own people is a terrorist."
Erdogan also told reporters that "There is state terrorism [in Syria] - I’m speaking frankly. I’m having difficulty understanding those in the Turkish media who defend this [state terrorism].”
Erdogan has been one of Assad’s harshest critics since Syria’s uprising erupted in March 2011.
During Monday's interview, Erdogan also denounced US Secretary of State John Kerry for praising Syria’s compliance with the international community in relinquishing its chemical weapons.
“You are a human being and me, too,” said Erdogan. “How can we appreciate the behavior of a person who killed 110,000 people, I ask you. The result of either chemical or other types of weapons is death. Then how can we appreciate this? I cannot imagine a person who appreciates this."
The media reported that Kerry said earlier on Monday that Assad could take "credit" for quickly starting the process of destroying his government chemical weapons arsenal while thanking Moscow for its help. "I don't think Mr. Kerry made a statement like this," said Erdogan."If he did, he has run into a contradiction with himself."
Erdogan’s comments came only days after his country was harshly criticized by Assad.
In an interview with Turkey’s private Halk TV last Thursday, the Syrian president warned that Ankara would pay “a high price” for allowing foreign fighters to enter Syria from its territory and join rebel forces. Assad also called Erdogan "bigoted" and "a liar," and accused him of supporting terrorists.
Assad made no mention of his government’s role in the civil war that has killed at least 100,000 people so far, instead blaming foreign fighters and governments, including Turkey’s, for the bloodshed.
“This government, represented by Erdogan, is responsible for the blood of tens of thousands of Syrians, and is responsible for the destruction of Syria’s infrastructure,” Assad said. It is also “responsible for endangering security of the region, not only Syria.”
“You cannot hide terrorists in your pocket. They are like a scorpion, which will eventually sting you,” Assad added, saying Muslim extremists from more than 80 countries are coming to Syria by sneaking across the border with Turkey.
Erdogan has long advocated the removal of Assad from power.
On August 31, the Turkish leader said a limited military response to the reported use of chemical weapons by Assad’s regime was not enough, and any kind of intervention should aim to topple him.
“It can’t be a 24 hours hit-and-run,” Erdogan told reporters at the presidential palace in Ankara. “What matters is stopping the bloodshed in Syria and weakening the regime to the point where it gives up.”
There are currently some 500,000 Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
Erdogan, a former ally of the Syrian president, turned against him several months after the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.