By Karin Strohecker
LONDON (Reuters) – Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia has not changed Ankara’s position that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go to restore peace in the country, Turkish deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Saturday.
Russia is Assad’s main military backer while Turkey backs the rebels fighting to oust him in the six year old conflict.
“We are in the same position, Assad has committed war crimes several times,” Kurtulmus told Reuters. “We have of course with Russia some differences in our opinions for the future of Syria, but we see the Russian side much more willing to encourage the regime for a peaceful solution.”
Russia and Iran have provided direct military support to Assad while countries that want to see him gone from power, including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, have done the same for the rebels fighting his forces.
Relations between Ankara and Moscow became strained after NATO member Turkey downed a Russian jet near the Syrian border a year ago but the two countries restored ties in August.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan discussed Syria with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday.
COUP PURGE CONTINUES
Talking about the government’s crackdown on supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of masterminding a failed coup in July, Kurtulmus said the purge would continue for some time.
“This is a very dangerous position and we will kill them from every single position in the civil services, but that will take time,” he said.
Kurtulmus’ chief advisor Ali Osman Ozturk said he expected there could be more arrests for at least another year, depending on the evidence found. He said 95,950 people had been suspended from their positions so far, of which 16,000 civil servants had since been reinstated.
The crackdown in the wake of the coup and Erdogan’s drive for a stronger presidency have raised fears of a lurch towards authoritarianism.
European Union lawmakers this week voted for a temporary halt to EU membership talks with Turkey because of Ankara’s “disproportionate” reaction to July’s failed coup.
Gulen denies any involvement in the attempted putsch of July 15, when more than 240 people were killed as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, fighter jets and helicopters, bombing parliament and other key buildings.
(Editing by David Clarke)