Syria: After Reyhanli, Erdogan to press US for aid to rebels

Turkey bans press coverage of investigation into massacre

14 May, 20:15

    (ANSAmed) - ANKARA, MAY 14 - Tensions between Ankara and Damascus remained high following Saturday's car bombing attack in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli that left 51 people dead, as Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan left tonight for Washington ahead of a meeting on Thursday with US President Barack Obama. Erdogan on Tuesday renewed accusations that the Syrian regime was behind the Reyhanli massacre. Damascus denied involvement, accusing Erdogan of "fabricating evidence" in order to derail the latest US-Russian peace plan and to spark an international intervention ahead of his meeting with Obama.

    According to Turkish media Erdogan will try to convince the US president to supply the rebels with arms and to impose a no-fly zone along the border in their support. Ankara meanwhile has announced the arrests of 13 Turkish citizens on suspicion of belonging to an organization with links to the Syrian regime. According to pro-government media the suspects belong to Acilciler, a 1970s fringe Marxist group whose leader, Mihrac Ural, has allegedly been spotted recently in Syria. ''They are using my name to accuse Syria, but Acilciler has not carried out an action in Turkey in 30 years'', Ural told reporters, denying all involvement in what he called ''an infamous and inhuman act''.

    Non-official media expressed doubts over Syrian culpability.

    Cumhurriyet pointed to the surprising fact that authorities "solved the case" just hours after the deadly attack, accusing Damascus "without evidence".

    In Reyhanli, where the majority of the population is of the Alawite faith like Assad, people blame Erdogan's robustly anti-Assad policy for their misfortune, according to Cumhurriyet.

    "The people of Reyhanli are certain the rebel Free Syrian Army was behind the bombing", Kurdish MP Ertugrul Kurkul said.

    Local distrust of the central government has been stoked by a court-ordered ban on media coverage of the investigation at the request of the Justice Ministry and the prosecution. ''This measure is usually used to prevent the public from being informed about truths it prefers to sweep under the carpet'', commented Agenda for Human Rights President Orhan Kemal Cengiz. Also on Tuesday, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi proposed conducting a ''joint and transparent'' investigation into the attack, accusing Erdogan of ''politically exploiting'' the massacre. The Turkish Premier coldly turned the offer down, saying it was made by an ''illegal'' administration.(ANSAmed).

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