UPDATE 1-Turkish prime minister cancels trip to U.N. assembly

Fri Sep 21, 2012 7:51am EDT

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ANKARA, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has cancelled a trip to the United States where he was due to attend a U.N. General Assembly meeting next week, an official from his office said, citing a forthcoming party congress and heavy work schedule.

The rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is likely to be focus of plenary and bilateral meetings in New York. Erdogan has been one of Assad's harshest critics, allowing the Syrian opposition to organise on Turkish soil, and pushing for a foreign-protected safe zone inside Syria.

But with soldiers engaged in some of the heaviest fighting in more than a decade with Kurdish militants in Turkey's own mountainous southeast, public sentiment is swinging against deeper Turkish involvement in Syria.

Erdogan had been due to travel to New York between Sept. 22 and 25 and to give a speech at the U.N. assembly.

Washington sees Turkey as the key player both in supporting Syria's opposition and in planning for what U.S. officials say is the inevitable collapse of the Assad government.

"Prime Minister Erdogan cancelled his U.S. trip because of the party congress on September 30th, as well as his busy schedule," a source in his office said.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will now lead the Turkish delegation at the New York meeting.

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul had earlier been scheduled to attend the U.N. assembly but cancelled due to an ear infection.

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