As Turks saw a fourth day of violent protests that have injured more than one thousand, neighboring Syria warned its citizens not to visit its neighbor to the north.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry released a statement Monday citing “security conditions in some Turkish cities that have deteriorated” and ”the violence practiced by [Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip] Erdogan’s government against peaceful protesters.” According to Reuters, Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi also criticized Erdogan, a key U.S. ally who has urged the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a result of that nation’s bloody two-year civil war.
“The demands of the Turkish people don’t deserve all this violence,” the Syrian Information Minister said, according to Reuters. “If Erdogan is unable to pursue non-violent means, he should resign.”
Erdogan was a close ally of Assad before the Syrian regime cracked down against dissidents. Syria’s call Monday for Erdogan to step down closely mirrors those made by the Turkish Prime Minister himself, who has often and forcefully called for Assad to relinquish power. While Syria was quick to condemn the unrest that has unfolded in Turkey since Friday, it is estimated that 80,000 people have been killed in Syria’s own two year old conflict.
Turkey has maintained relative stability despite the Syrian conflict, an influx of about 370,000 Syrian refugees across its borders, and 2011’s widespread “Arab Spring.” Yet protests sparked Friday by the government’s plans to raze the last remaining park in the city center turned into a massive protest against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
More than one thousand were injured in the major cities of Istanbul and Ankara, as well as 67 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, as protesters clashed with riot police levying tear gas pepper spray, water cannons and armored vehicles. According to Turkey’s Andalou News Agency, more than 700 people have been detained, with most released; a few dozen civilians have been hospitalized and over a hundred security officers injured.
Erdogan has publicly blamed the opposition party for “provoking the protests.” He remained defiant in a televised speech Saturday, saying, “If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party… Every four years we hold elections and this nation makes its choice. Those who have a problem with government’s policies can express their opinions within the framework of law and democracy.”
Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern over what he called “reports of excessive use of force by police” on Monday, saying, “The United States supports full freedom of expression and assembly… We obviously hope that there will be full investigations of those incidents and full restraint.” Just two weeks ago, President Obama met with Erdogan to discuss a path forward in Syria, after U.S. intelligence confirmed “with varying degrees of confidence” in late April that chemical weapons had been used in Syria by the Assad regime.
“Erdogan is a critical partner for us, with regard to Syria and the Middle East more broadly,” former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy told msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell Monday. “This is probably the most serious challenge he’s faced domestically in quite some time. So this is going to be distracting some of his attention to his own political standing at home and how to calm the situation.”
“That said, I don’t think it’s reached a point yet where it would really undercut his ability to be an important partner and leader on Syria as well,” Flournoy added.
Watch Andrea Mitchell’s interview with former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy below: