Turkey urges Assad to punish security forces

December 9, 2011 - 7:45 AM

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has urged Syria's president to punish his security forces if he is "sincere" in denying ordering a violent crackdown on his people — the latest in a series of moves aimed at pressuring Bashar Assad to halt the attacks.

Assad claimed in a rare interview Wednesday that he never ordered the brutal suppression of the uprising and insisted only a "crazy person" would kill his own people. His remarks were an apparent attempt to distance himself from violence that the United Nations says has killed 4,000 people since March.

"If he is sincere he will punish the security forces, he will accept the Arab League observers and help change the atmosphere," Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Friday. "He still has the opportunity to do this."

Authorities said Friday that Turkey will also suspend a 2008 free trade agreement with Syria, which will lead to taxes of up to 30 percent on some goods. Syria had already unilaterally suspended the agreement, but Turkey's Cabinet needed to approve the suspension so it can also increase taxes.

Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazici said Turkey is also planning to encourage trucks to favor Iraqi and Jordanian routes for delivering goods to the Middle East, because of the deterioration in relations.

"We are having tensions with Syria," Yazici said. "Of course, our trade is important but our stance based on humanitarian values is above everything."

Cargo ships were also planned to bypass Syria, running between Turkey's Mediterranean port of Iskenderun and some Red Sea ports in line with sanctions against Syria.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.