Turkey, Tunisia oppose non-Arab intervention in Syria

TUNIS Thu Mar 8, 2012 8:26am EST

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Thursday his country was opposed to any force from outside the region intervening in Syria, but warned that no government could survive by using violence against its people.

Gul's comments came during a visit to Tunisia, which has also called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down but has opposed any foreign military intervention to end the year-long crisis that has claimed more than 7,500 lives.

Speaking at a joint news conference at a presidential palace overlooking the Mediterranean, both Gul and Tunisian President Moncef al-Marzouki urged an end to the violence.

"Turkey is against the intervention by any force which is from outside the region. Such an intervention could be subject to exploitation," Gul said, without elaborating.

"It is not possible for any regime to go on through the use of violence and ... dictatorship... The decision to use the armed forces against the people has transformed the issue... into one of international interest," he said.

Turkey, a Muslim member of NATO with the second largest army in the alliance, has been coordinating closely with the Arab League to forge a regional response to the Syrian crisis.

Gul's comments echo concerns among some Arab countries that foreign intervention in Syria, located at the heart of the Middle East, could complicate and prolong the conflict.

"FRIENDS OF SYRIA"

Marzouki said Tunisia would be willing to send forces to Syria as part of an Arab peacekeeping operation mooted at the first "Friends of Syria" conference, which the North African country hosted last month, but warned against military intervention.

Marzouki, who has offered Assad asylum in Tunisia as part of an effort to end the violence quickly, said the best solution remained a negotiated exit for the Syrian leader followed by a transition to democracy.

"What we need now is to continue political efforts, especially with our Russian and Chinese friends as they can play a role in convincing the Syrian regime that this game is over," Marzouki said.

Russia and China have blocked all efforts at U.N. Security Council action against Syria, where Assad has sought to crush a revolt that began with peaceful protest but has increasingly turned into an armed rebellion.

Russia and China refused an invitation to attend the first meeting of the "Friends of Syria" grouping, composed mostly of Western and Arab countries critical of Assad. Gul said that Turkey, which plans to hold the next "Friends of Syria" meeting would hold a preparatory conference in two weeks time.

No date has been set for the meeting and Gul said Turkey would take its time as the international situation developed.

Turkey, a powerful northern neighbor of Syria and once a close ally, has been at the forefront of efforts to nurture the Syrian opposition since abandoning Assad, hosting the opposition Syrian National Council and sheltering members of the Free Syrian Army.

"Turkey made great efforts to achieve the changes needed in Syria but when it found there was no possibility of change with this regime, it began to take a position that backed the Syrian people," Gul said through a translator.

(Reporting by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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