Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a joint news conference following their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow. (AP)
Updated 23 January 2019
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Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

  • The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict
  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.
“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.
“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers “effective.”
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.
The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern.”
Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.
Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.


Sudan protesters remain resilient, but Bashir unbowed

Updated 55 min 42 sec ago
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Sudan protesters remain resilient, but Bashir unbowed

  • Demonstrators are pressing on with rallies despite a show of defiance from the veteran leader and a sweeping crackdown by the authorities
  • Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protester Osman Sulaiman has taken to the streets of Khartoum chanting “overthrow, overthrow” almost daily since demonstrations erupted against President Omar Al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule in December.
And he insists he has no intention of stopping now.
“We have to fight our battle if we have to secure our future and the future of our country,” Sulaiman, an engineering graduate who has been unemployed for years, told AFP.
As the protest campaign against Bashir’s regime enters its third month on Tuesday, demonstrators are pressing on with rallies despite a show of defiance from the veteran leader and a sweeping crackdown by the authorities.
Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 have been killed including medics and children.
Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists have been jailed by agents of the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
“The protesters’ resilience has been very impressive,” says Murithi Mutiga of International Crisis Group (ICG).
“Two months have passed, but the movement’s momentum has remained and participation has grown geographically and across socio-economic classes.”
On Sunday, scores of protesters rallied in Khartoum chanting their catchcry “freedom, peace, justice” as police fired tear gas.
Demonstrations first erupted on December 19 in the farming town of Atbara against a government decision to triple the price of bread.
But the rallies swiftly mushroomed into a major challenge to Bashir’s three-decade rule, with those taking part demanding his resignation.
From the provinces to the streets of the capital and its twin city Omdurman the demonstrations have spread through villages, towns and cities across the east African nation.
They have drawn in a cross section of society including middle-class professionals, agricultural laborers, youths and Bashir’s political opponents — with thousands of women and men rallying across the country on some days.
Only the three conflict zones of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan have remained largely devoid of mass demonstrations.
“Despite the violence unleashed by the regime, the movement has extended even to the rural areas,” said Mohamed Yusuf, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella group of unions that has spearheaded the campaign.
“We believe the movement will not stop as new groups have joined it.”
Sudan’s main opposition National Umma Party led by former premier Sadiq Al-Mahdi has backed the campaign and called for Bashir to step down.
Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 that overthrew the elected government of Mahdi.
The SPA has called on political groups to join their movement by signing a “Document for Freedom and Change.”
The text outlines a post-Bashir plan including rebuilding Sudan’s justice system and halting the country’s dire economic decline, the key reason for the nationwide demonstrations.
Sudan’s financial woes were long a cause of popular frustration before the anger spilt onto the streets after the bread price hike.
Soaring inflation along with acute foreign currency shortages have battered the economy, especially after the independence of South Sudan in 2011 took away the bulk of oil earnings.
Protest campaigners have kept their supporters motivated by announcing rallies on behalf of detained comrades or to honor “martyrs” killed in the protests.
If security forces have prevented protesters from reaching downtown Khartoum, then they have rallied in outlying neighborhoods, sometimes at night.
On occasion, the calls to protest have failed to mobilize people, but there have also been demonstrations that have seen crowds of professors, doctors, engineers and teachers chanting anti-Bashir slogans.
The president’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) insists that after two months the campaign has begun petering out.
“The protests continued for a long time but the reality is that demonstrations have now slowed,” said NCP spokesman Ibrahim Al-Siddiq.
“This is because protesters lack popular support.”
Analysts say continuing support from the security forces for the regime and Bashir’s own defiance have created a deadlock.
“The president remains very stubborn and the protesters remain very determined,” said Mutiga of ICG.
“What we now have is a clear stalemate.”
Bashir has countered the demonstrations with his own rallies, promising economic development in the country and promoting peace in its war zones.
Dismissing calls for his resignation, he has insisted that the ballot box is the only way to change the government.
The 75-year-old leader is considering a run for a third term in an election scheduled in 2020.
For now, those taking to the streets say they will keep up the pressure.
Aaya Omer, a resident of Khartoum’s eastern district of Burri, shows no sign of giving up.
“We will continue with our struggle because we deserve a better life,” the 28-year-old woman said.
“I’ll continue to protest until our mission to overthrow this regime is achieved.”