Turkey Says Syria Regime Will Fall As Deaths Mount
BEIRUT (AP) -- Turkey's prime minister said Friday that his once-close allies in Syria's authoritarian regime will fall in a reckoning for the bloody crackdown on their own people, as activists there reported at least 17 more dead in new raids on anti-government protesters. One protest group put the death toll as high as 32.
The prediction from Turkey's premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, significantly deepens Syria's isolation and is especially potent because it comes from a former ally and a rapidly emerging power in the Middle East. Adding to the gravity of his remarks, he made them in Libya's capital, where Erdogan celebrated the fall of another strongman, Moammar Gadhafi.
"Those who are attacking their people with tanks and guns will not be able to remain in power," Erdogan said at a press conference. Syrian President Bashar Assad "will eventually have to pay the price for this," he said, just like the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and -- most recently -- Libya.
Earlier, he told a crowd of thousands of cheering Libyans that leaders cannot prosper through oppression.
"The era of autocracy is ending. Totalitarian regimes are disappearing," he said. "The people's rule is coming."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague echoed those sentiments.
"The Arab Spring demonstrates that the universal aspiration for open societies, political freedoms and transparent and accountable government cannot be suppressed," he said. "President Assad and his regime are deluding themselves if they believe they can halt this tide."
Turkey was once a major ally of Syria, but its leaders have grown increasingly frustrated with Damascus as it defies calls to stop the bloody crackdown on dissent that the U.N. says has killed 2,600 people. Even Syria's closest ally, Iran, has called on Assad to end the violence in a sign of growing alarm over the 6-month-old uprising.
Despite Friday's deaths, Syrian troops failed to stop thousands from pouring into streets nationwide.
The activists reported new demonstrations from the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs to the southern province of Daraa, where the protest movement was born in mid-March. Crowds also gathered in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour as well as the province of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast and central regions.
Activists, citing a network of sources on the ground, said the death toll was at least 17. One major activist group, called the Local Coordinating Committees, put the figure at 32.
Heavy restrictions on journalists have made it impossible to independently verify the accounts of either side.
The Friday protests, which have become a weekly ritual after the midday Muslim prayer services, were held under the banner "We will continue until we bring down the regime."
Syria's uprising, which is targeting one of the Middle East's most repressive regimes, began amid the wave of anti-government protests that are transforming the Arab world from North Africa to the Persian Gulf.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces shot dead 17 protesters. The greatest bloodshed was in the northwestern region of Jabal al-Zawiya, where 10 people were killed in raids.
At least five people were killed in the central province of Hama and two in the central city of Homs.
Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso said thousands also took to the streets of predominantly Kurdish northeastern towns.
State-run TV said a policeman was killed and four wounded Friday when they came under fire in the village of Busra Hariri in the southern province of Daraa.
Syria has disputed accounts of civilian deaths and says the regime is fighting terrorists and thugs -- not true reform seekers. A senior Assad adviser, Buthaina Shaaban, said Monday that the toll since March was really 1,400 -- evenly split between security forces and the opposition.
Amateur video of the protests and the crackdown has made its way online, providing activists with one of their few outlets to the world.
New video posted on an opposition page on social media showed dozens of people marching in a street in the Damascus neighborhood of Kfar Sousse while chanting, "The people want the president executed." They also shouted, "We don't want Bashar."
Despite Assad's crackdown on the extraordinary revolt against his family's 40-year dynasty, he has acknowledged the need for reform. He has lifted decades-old state of emergency laws and last month endorsed new laws that would allow the formation of political parties alongside his ruling Baath party and enable newly formed political parties to run for parliament and local councils.
The opposition has rejected the measures and is demanding an end to his rule.
In neighboring Lebanon, the Lebanese army said in a statement that Syrian troops briefly crossed the border late Thursday and opened fire at people trying to flee their country. It added that when Lebanese troops reached the northern area, Syrian troops had left but they still opened fire from inside Syria, damaging a Lebanese army vehicle.
More than 5,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon since the crisis began.
005 16-2011-09 Shiite Cleric's Followers Protest Shortages in Iraq
BAGHDAD (AP) -- An anti-American cleric galvanized thousands of followers to rally Friday for more jobs and government aid in demonstrations that showed his support among Shiites, who are vital supporters of Iraq's political leaders.
Caskets carried through the streets of Sadr City in northeast Baghdad symbolized Iraq's electricity outages, slim food rations and unemployment. Police estimated 25,000 protesters turned out in Sadr City, the political stronghold of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Similar demonstrations took place in the southern cities of Basra and Najaf.
"We want services, jobs and a portion of the oil revenue to be distributed to people. Immediately, immediately, immediately," Sadrist official Ibrahim al-Jabiri told the Shiite crowds in Baghdad.
Iraqi and Shiite religious flags were hoisted in the air, and protesters held up broken lamps, fans, air coolers, heaters and generators as a sign of their frustration over electricity outages that have plagued the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Al-Sadr is in Iran, where he has been studying at religious schools. He is the fiercest opponent of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. He has repeatedly demanded full withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year, as required under a 2008 security agreement between Baghdad and Washington.
Negotiations between the two countries are under way over the possibility that some U.S. troops might remain after the deadline.
Though he has lived mostly in Iran for several years, his influence has grown since last fall, when he publicly endorsed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to remain in power, even though the premier's party fell short of winning national elections. Most of al-Sadr's followers are among the poorest Iraqis, and he has often hammered the government to produce more aid for them.
At the Basra and Najaf rallies, hundreds of Sadrists also shouted anti-American slogans among their calls for better services.
"The people want the occupiers to leave," they shouted. "The people want to reform the regime."
Continued instability in Iraq's government and security forces, combined with Iran's growing influence in Baghdad, has led al-Maliki and President Barack Obama to weigh whether to keep between 3,000 and 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31 deadline.
In a letter released early Friday, 41 experts, former lawmakers and top officials in the administration of former President George W. Bush called on Obama to keep far more than 4,000 troops in Iraq - a figure the White House is reportedly considering. The letter released by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative-leaning group in Washington, did not suggest how many troops would be adequate.
Among the letter's mostly Republican signers were L. Paul Bremer, who ran the U.S. occupation of Iraq until June 2004 and then was involved in a long and destabilizing struggle to elect a government and write a constitution, and Bush political adviser Karl Rove.
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