Turkey’s reluctance to join the fight against Isis militants to defend the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani has fuelled violent protests across the country resulting in at least nine deaths.
Turkish media said at least nine people were killed in demonstrations as furious Kurds, who make up one fifth of the country’s population, demanded that their government do more to protect the Syrian Kurdish town.
Kobani is just miles from the Syrian border with Turkey. It has become a symbolic battleground in the fight against Isis and will be an inevitable barometer of the success of the US-led aerial campaign which is helping Kurdish forces on the ground. US military have stepped up their presence in the region, with the latest release from the US military confirming five air strikes that are thought to have halted Isis advance, at least temporarily.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the town was close to falling into Isis hands and that air strikes would not be enough to quell the advance. “There has to be co-operation with those who are fighting on the ground,” he said.
But Turkey has hitherto refused to join any coalition against the Sunni Muslim militants, saying the campaign should first be broadened to target the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kurdish politicians have criticised Turkey for inaction.
There is widespread concern that - should Kobani fall - it would leave Turkey’s border directly exposed to Isis as well as intensify fury among the country’s population of around 15 million Kurds that could further destabilise the region.
Turkey, which is a Nato member, has inherited more than 180,000 refugees who fled Kobani, but its reluctance to defend the town sparked clashes around the country. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters who burnt cars and tyres as they took to the streets mainly in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish eastern and southeastern provinces. Clashes also erupted in the biggest city Istanbul and in the capital Ankara.
Five people were killed in Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish city in the southeast, while a 25-year-old man died in Varto, a town in the eastern province of Mus. Turkey’s Interior Minister Efkan Ala called for an end to the protests. “Violence is not the solution. Violence triggers reprisals. This irrational attitude should come to an end immediately,” he said.
In Washington, the State Department said that US Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu twice this week to discuss developments in Kobani and Turkey's broader role in the coalition. Meanwhile the new UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called for an urgent international response to the Isis assault on the town. “The world, all of us, will regret deeply if Isis is able to take over a city which has defended itself with courage but is close to not being able to do so," she said. "We need to act now.”
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