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Turkey's Warning To Syria: Stop Attacking Civilians

MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. A warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today, from his country's big, powerful and formerly friendly neighbor Turkey. The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu, says that he has told President Assad: Stop military operations against civilians immediately and unconditionally. Davutoglu told a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital: This is our final word to the Syrian authorities. If these operations do not stop, there will be nothing left to say about the steps that would be taken.

That warning was on the third straight day of a Syrian land and sea bombardment of the coastal city of Latakia. Activists say more than 30 people were killed in the crackdown yesterday. Anthony Shadid, of the New York Times, is following all of these events from neighboring Lebanon, and he has reported on the evidence of cracks within the Assad regime. And Anthony Shadid, "this is our final word" sounds very much like an ultimatum, which is diplomatic parlance for, reject this demand and we'll use force. Is that what you hear?

ANTHONY SHADID: I'm not sure if force is an option at this point, but you're right to emphasize the strength of the statement. Him saying "immediately and unconditionally" leaves very little wiggle room, something that the Syrians have sought to utilize in the past. You know, we can't underestimate how important Turkey is in the uprising that's going on in Syria right now. Davutoglu, himself, has visited Damascus more than 60 times. The Turks have invested a lot of diplomatic effort, economic effort, political capital into courting Syria as an ally, as a linchpin in their plans to integrate the region.

I think Davutoglu's statement is a clear expression of Turkish weariness or Turkish - even exasperation at their inability to bring an end to this crackdown, or at least to force the Syrians to pull back in their very, you know, forceful, violent measures in trying to repress this uprising.

SIEGEL: President Assad seems to be responding to the protests with more and more force. What signs do you see that his position might in any way be weakening from within?

SHADID: You know, I think first and foremost, we have to look at the security forces and the military, but primarily the security forces. And until we see a crumbling or a split within those security forces, President Assad's government can probably last. The two things that people point to are those security forces and also economic tension, economic stress. And I think there's a sense out there that the economy, though withering - and it's far weaker than it was just months ago - can probably hold out for, you know, 'til the end of the year, say, before you saw maybe like, a collapse in the Syrian currency.

But those two factors, I think, are the most important. If you go beyond that, though, and if you look at the stresses on the government at this point, there clearly are stresses. There's a - I wouldn't say a recalculation going on, a rethinking necessarily, but there's a wavering of support among minorities in the country. There's a frustration on the part of some figures within the government that the violence is not working, that the crackdown isn't going to bring and end to this uprising, that the uprising itself has demonstrated a remarkable resiliency.

And I think, finally, there's a sense among the business elite in Damascus and Aleppo, again, there's maybe a jockeying for the day after, trying to secure their bets if the government did, indeed, fall.

SIEGEL: And a few days ago, there actually was chaos in the streets of Aleppo, it was reported, the city that had been very calm until that point. What significance do you read into that?

SHADID: Well, Damascus and Aleppo are definitely the cities to watch as this uprising and the crackdown unfold. Damascus and Aleppo, until now, have been, you know, relatively quiet. There haven't been - there have, of course, been protests going on in both cities, but they haven't reached the critical mass that we saw in places like Hama and Deir ez-Zor, when you had hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. But once those cities do move, it's going to pose a very serious challenge to the durability of President Assad's government.

SIEGEL: Well, Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, thanks so much for talking with us once again.

SHADID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.