Turkey's Gul says global response to Syria just talk

REYHANLI, Turkey Thu May 16, 2013 10:47am EDT

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul greets people as he visits one of the two blast sites, which resulted in the deaths of 51 people over the weekend, in the town of Reyhanli, in Hatay province near the Turkish-Syrian border, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul greets people as he visits one of the two blast sites, which resulted in the deaths of 51 people over the weekend, in the town of Reyhanli, in Hatay province near the Turkish-Syrian border, May 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Umit Bektas

REYHANLI, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkey's President Abdullah Gul criticized the world's response to the Syria conflict on Thursday as limited to "rhetoric", saying his country had received little help in coping with a huge influx of Syrian refugees.

Speaking in the border town of Reyhanli where car bombs killed more than 50 people at the weekend, Gul also called for calm after the incident, which has sparked anti-government protests and a backlash against Syrian refugees in the town.

Four suspects were formally arrested and remanded in custody late on Wednesday over the bombings, state-run Anatolian news agency said. It was not clear what charges they faced.

They were among nine Turks, including the alleged mastermind of the attacks, detained soon after the bombings.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said the perpetrators were from an "old Marxist terrorist organization" with ties to Assad's government. Damascus has denied any involvement.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler has said the bombings - the deadliest on Turkish soil since Syria's war began - were carried out by a group with direct links to Syrian intelligence.

Apart from hosting about 400,000 Syrians, Turkey strongly backs the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the Reyhanli bombings have sharpened tensions along the frontier as the civil war in its southern neighbor spills over.

"The international community's contribution to Turkey's financial aid to these people who are in a difficult situation is only symbolic," Gul told reporters in Reyhanli.

"From the very start the international community has only used rhetoric and heroism in their approach to the Syrian problem," he said.

BORDER TENSIONS

Turkey is struggling to manage the flow of Syrians across its border, with only around half of those who have fled living in refugee camps. Tens of thousands of others have settled in towns and cities along the 900 km (560 mile) border.

The United Nations says the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey could climb to one million by the end of the year.

Ankara, reluctant to act unilaterally in Syria, has grown increasingly troubled by what it calls international inaction on the crisis, which has long divided the big powers.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who has often voiced such frustrations, was meeting U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Thursday, with Syria expected to top the agenda.

The twin bombings in Reyhanli, among the bloodiest in Turkey's modern history, stoked unease among Turks along the border most affected by the turmoil in Syria.

Several protests have erupted in Reyhanli and other nearby towns since the bombings, with many locals blaming security problems on Ankara's policy of supporting the Syrian opposition.

Others have taken out their frustration on the Syrians themselves. Thousands of Syrians have settled in Reyhanli because of its proximity to the border and because most of its people are Sunnis, like almost all the refugees.

A Syrian doctor in Reyhanli who treats wounded Syrians at a rehabilitation center said one of his nurses had been attacked on the street hours after the blasts. Others said their cars had been attacked and one said locals had seized him and handed him over to the police.

While the incidents appear to be isolated and sporadic, the general sense of anger directed at the Syrians has made most of the refugees too afraid to venture out of their homes.

Gul said any sudden population influx could allow those with "bad intentions" to surface, but urged people in the area to be "level-headed" and said the bomb perpetrators would be punished.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Ankara; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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