December 2, 2011

Turkey Imposes Economic Sanctions on Syrian Regime! YAAAY! Thank You Turkey!

The Wall Street Journal
written by Marc Champion
Thursday December 1, 2011

ISTANBUL—Ankara imposed sanctions against Syria on Wednesday, including a freeze on the regime's assets in Turkey and on official lines of credit, further isolating President Bashar al-Assad and his embattled government.

"The Syrian Administration has further lost its legitimacy with every bullet fired and with every minaret bombed," Mr. Davutoglu said, explaining the decision to turn on Mr. Assad, a former close ally. "In our opinion, by wasting all the opportunities offered to them…the Syrian administration has come to the end of the road."

Mr. Davutoglu's remarks, broadcast live on Turkey's NTV television, were interrupted by news of a lone gunman, who opened fire in the heart of Istanbul's Sultanahmet tourist district, wounding a security guard and a soldier.

The attacker was killed and later described as a Libyan national who was driving a car with Syrian license plates. Turkey's NTV television cited witnesses who claimed the gunman shouted he was Syrian. It wasn't clear whether the shooting and sanctions were connected.

Turkey's Interior Minister Naim Sahin identified the assailant as Samir Salem Ali Elmadhavri, a 36-year-old Libyan citizen who had entered Turkey on Sunday, the state news agency Anadolu Ajansi reported. The gunman's car at the scene had Syrian registration plates, Mr. Sahin, according to Anadolu.

Mr. Davutoglu said the nine sanctions announced were being coordinated with a similar list that the Arab League had agreed to Sunday.

He said Turkey would end relations with Syria's central bank; halt all credit to the Syrian government; halt new transactions with the Commercial Bank of Syria; and freeze an existing credit agreement signed to support Turkish involvement in Syrian infrastructure projects.

Other sanctions included a travel ban and asset freeze for individuals in the regime accused of taking part in illegal actions against civilians, as well as for businessmen close to the regime.

Also listed were some steps that have been announced and implemented previously, such as a halt to all Turkish military aid and arms sales to Syria, and an embargo on the transit of arms to Syria across Turkish territory.

Turkey is one of Syria's most important trading partners, with a long shared border and trade that hit $2.4 billion last year. But over the past two months, trade already has been collapsing, as Turkish banks stopped issuing letters of credit, and demand within Syria shrank.

"Our trade and investment projects in Syria are already close to stopping," said Sadik Yildiz, deputy chairman of the Turkish-Syrian Business Council. "The two central banks already had very minimal relations and credit facilities will be the same."

What would have a significant impact, but is not in the package, Mr. Yildiz said, would be a decision to suspend the free-trade agreement between Syria and Turkey, or between Syria and the other Arab nations. He acknowledged that it wasn't possible to know what assets Syria has in Turkey that might be frozen.

The Arab League sanctions also are likely to have limited economic impact, Mr. Yildiz said, given that Iraq and Lebanon haven't signed on to them. Those two countries accounted for half of all Arab trade with Syria in 2009, the latest data available from Syria's official statistics bureau.

"Of course, psychologically and symbolically it will have impact on the people of Syria who are against the regime; they will feel more action is being taken against the regime," said Mr. Yildiz.

The United Arab Emirates said Wednesday it hopes Syria will accept terms put forward by the league that would allow it to avoid the sanctions. U.A.E. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahyan told reporters in Abu Dhabi that the Assad regime still has time to implement reforms. "We should give a chance to Damascus to think of the hard situation it has put itself and the Arabs in," he said.

The Arab League sanctions include blocking the sale of "nonessential" commodities to Syria, halting transactions with the Syrian central bank and ending financing for Arab-funded projects in Syria. They were imposed after Syria ignored calls by the league to withdraw security forces from major cities, release thousands of political prisoners, and allow international observers and media into the country.

Until President Assad began a violent crackdown against opposition protesters in the Spring, Ankara had been among Mr. Assad's closest political allies.

The two regimes have had a bitter falling out since the summer, in a dispute that at times has had personal overtones. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly expressed his personal anger and disappointment at Mr. Assad's failure to heed Ankara's pleas to end the bloodshed, destroying what had been a key plank in Mr. Erdogan's Middle East policy.

Mr. Assad, in return, has accused Turkey of aiding the opposition, which Damascus describes as terrorist gangs, and of seeking to restore the Ottoman Empire. Syria was conquered by the Ottomans in 1516 and remained under their control until the empire's disintegration.

"We never had and will never have a hidden agenda about either Syria, or our region," Mr. Davutoglu said on Wednesday, in an apparent reference to the accusation of Ottoman nostalgia. He also left the door open to further measures.

"From now on, we will also consider additional measures we may adopt according to the attitude of the Syrian Administration with the same meticulousness," he added.

Turkey's NTV television broke into Mr. Davutoglu's announcement to report that a gunman had opened fire outside Topkapi Palace, the onetime residence of Ottoman sultans and a top draw for tourists in the city. The channel late showed a still shot of a man wearing a belt of cartridges over his shoulder and carrying several weapons.

The gunman wounded a security guard and a soldier guarding the palace in a gunfight that lasted just over an hour, before being killed. Both injured men underwent surgery.

Asked about the gunman's motives, Mr. Sahin said: "An attack is an attack. The message of an attack is to do harm."

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