ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's prime minister on Tuesday said for the first time that Syria's president must step down over the country's brutal crackdown on dissent, ratcheting up the pressure on the increasingly isolated Bashar Assad.
In his harshest words yet, Recep Tayyip Ergodan reminded Assad of the bloody end of the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafii, as well as past dictators, including Adolf Hitler.
"For the welfare of your own people and the region, just leave that seat," Erdogan said in a televised speech.
"If you want to see someone who has fought until death against his own people, just look at Nazi Germany, just look at Hitler, at Mussolini, at Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania," he said. "If you cannot draw any lessons from these, then look at the Libyan leader who was killed just 32 days ago in manner none of us wished and who used the same expression you used," referring to Assad's promise to keep fighting.
Erdogan's warning came the day after Syrian soldiers opened fire on at least two buses carrying Turkish citizens, witnesses and officials said, apparent retaliation for Turkey's criticism of Assad, whose military crackdown on an 8-month-old uprising against his rule has killed nearly 4,000 people.
In separate attacks, Syrian security forces killed at least 13 people during raids in central Syria, activists said.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said most of the deaths were in the flashpoint city of Homs, a hotbed of dissent against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
Erdogan has grown increasingly critical of the Syrian regime, and he said last week that the world must urgently "hear the screams" from Syria and do something to stop the bloodshed.
Turkey has allowed Syrian refugees and military defectors to take refuge on its soil, and Syria's political opposition has used Turkey as a place to meet and organize.
Assad's deepening isolation and the growing calls for his ouster are a severe blow to a family dynasty that has ruled Syria for four decades -- and any change to the leadership could transform some of the most enduring alliances in the Middle East and beyond.
Syria's uprising has grown increasingly violent in recent months. Army defectors who sided with the revolt have grown bolder in recent weeks, fighting back against regime forces and even attacking military bases -- raising fears of a civil war.