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Turkey's PM Warns of Syrian Civil War as Crackdown Continues


Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint press conference with Egyptian Prime minister Essam Sharaf, unseen, in Cairo, Sept. 13, 2011

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint press conference with Egyptian Prime minister Essam Sharaf, unseen, in Cairo, Sept. 13, 2011

Turkey's prime minister has warned that Syria could descend into a sectarian civil war, as the unrest there continues.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk Tuesday he fears the crisis engulfing Turkey's southern neighbor will end in conflict between the Alawites and the Sunnis.

Syria's ruling elite belong to the minority Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam - while most of the country's citizens are Sunni Muslim.

In separate comments before several thousand people in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, Mr. Erdogan said civilian deaths have increased in Syria, but reforms have not followed. He said that neither the Syrian people nor the Turkish government believe anymore in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Earlier Tuesday, activists said Syrian security forces carried out sweeping arrests and raids in areas outside the capital, Damascus, and in a string of cities including Daraa, Latakia and Banias.

Demonstrators also burned Russian flags in the flashpoint cities of Homs and Daraa to protest Moscow's support for Mr. Assad. Both Russia and China oppose a draft U.N. Security Council resolution backed by European nations and the U.S. that would impose an arms embargo and other sanctions on Syria.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, the Arab League called for "immediate change" in Syria, urging Mr. Assad to end the violence and launch a comprehensive national dialogue.

Arab foreign ministers Tuesday demanded that Syrian authorities implement measures agreed upon during a visit to Damascus last week by the league's secretary-general.

Qatar's foreign minister, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who chaired the meeting, said the the current situation remains critical and that Syria must stop what he called its "killing machine."

The United Nations estimates that 2,600 people have been killed in Syria's six-month-long uprising.

An aide to Mr. Assad disputed the U.N. figures Monday, saying that 1,400 have died. A Syrian government spokesman said the casualties have been evenly split between government forces and opposition activists.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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