Assad warns Turkey of consequences for aiding rebels

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
October 4, 2013

Assad speaks out against Erdogan in TV interview, Italy postpones search for migrant bodies, and Maduro struggles to fill Chavez’s shoes. Today is Friday, October 4, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaks during an interview with Italian television station RaiNews24 in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria’s national news agency SANA on September 29, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Assad gives warning. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued harsh words to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in an interview with Turkey’s Halk TV airing today, warning the leader that Turkey will pay a price for aiding Syrian rebels.

In an interview with Turkey’s Halk TV due to be broadcast later on Friday, Assad called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan “bigoted” and said Ankara was allowing terrorists to cross into Syria to attack the army and Syrian civilians…”In the near future, these terrorists will have an impact on Turkey and Turkey will pay a heavy price for it.” Turkey, which shares a 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria and has NATO’s second largest deployable armed forces, is one of Assad’s fiercest critics and a staunch supporter of the opposition, although it denies arming the rebels. It shelters about a quarter of the 2 million people who have fled Syria and has often seen the conflict spill across its frontier, responding in kind when mortars and shells fired from Syria have hit its soil. It has also allowed rebel fighters to cross in and out of Syria but has grown alarmed, along with Western allies opposed to Assad, by divisions among their ranks and the deepening influence of radical Islamists in Syria.

Erdogan said on Thursday that Syria is headed towards sectarian war, adding, “this is the danger we are facing.” Turkey has sent additional troops to the Turkey-Syria border in recent weeks, and the Turkish parliament voted to extend a mandate allowing for troop deployment to Syria if necessary. In his interview, Assad denied again that his regime was behind the chemical attack that left hundreds dead in a Damascus suburb in August, and has left survivors defiant against the Syrian government. Last week, the U.N. adopted a resolution demanding Syria give up its chemical weapons. The chemical attack has struck a chord with Iraqi Kurds, who recall the 1988 gas attacks that killed at least 5,000 people and fear chemical weapons from Syria will eventually be used against them. On Thursday, the U.N. said that a team of chemical weapons experts is making “encouraging initial progress” in efforts to facilitate Syria’s chemical disarmament.

A still image taken from video released on October 4, 2013 by the Italian Coast Guard shows migrants rescued from the water off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, October 3, 2013.REUTERS/Italian Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters

Search stopped. Italian authorities postpone divers’ search for bodies trapped in a wrecked boat which sank off the coast of Italy early on Thursday, killing an estimated 300 migrants traveling from African countries including Eritrea and Somalia in one of the worst incidents in Europe’s immigration crisis:

Choppy seas prevented divers on Friday from recovering more bodies of migrants… Rescue teams have so far recovered 111 bodies and expect to find more than 100 others in and around the wreck, submerged in 47 meters of water less than a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the shore of the southern island of Lampedusa. After 155 people were pulled from the water alive on Thursday, strong winds and meter-high waves made it impossible for 40 divers to safely collect bodies. There was little hope of finding more survivors from the almost 500 passengers estimated to have been on board. “Though the bad sea conditions persist, our guys are ready to go down if a window opens up that makes it safe for them,” coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini told Reuters. Though the tiny island takes in thousands of immigrants every year and there have been similar wrecks in the past, residents were shaken by the sheer size of the tragedy.

Italy’s strict immigration law has come under fire for requiring repatriation of illegal immigrants and has led to the sequester of fishing boats that save migrant lives. Nearly 500 people were reported dead or missing traveling from Tunisia to Italy last year.

A man sits next to a mural depicting the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in downtown Caracas, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Chavez still center stage. Months after being elected president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro remains in the shadow of Hugo Chavez’s legacy:

After Chavez’s death from cancer in March at the age of 58, the popularity of “El Comandante” has grown and taken on even deeper religious undertones among the support base that kept him in power for 14 years. While that helped Maduro, a former bus driver, union activist and member of parliament win a six-year term as president, it is also making it near-impossible for him to step out of Chavez’s shadow. “As long as Nicolas maintains Chavez’s route, the people will be with him. If he deviates from Chavez, everything will change, he’ll be finished,” [said Chavez supporter Yalmy] Rumbo. Therein lies Maduro’s dilemma. He owes everything, from his political inheritance to his election, to his late mentor. So, unsurprisingly, he parrots Chavez at every turn, be it thundering at the U.S. “empire” or trying to prove himself a man of the people during his daily, televised walkabouts. Yet to solve a daunting array of problems, from the highest inflation in the Americas and embarrassing shortages of basic goods to rampant corruption and shoddy infrastructure, many feel Maduro needs to become his own man and tweak some policies.

The country’s floundering economy presents further difficulty for the new president. Venezuelans struggle to make ends meet in light of power cuts and rising prices, and according to pollster IVAD, 67 percent of Venezuelans have a pessimistic view of the country’s general direction.

Nota Bene: Muslim Brotherhood supporter killed as clashes erupt in Egypt.

Standouts:

Skype censorship - Pakistani province attempts to ban instant messaging. (BBC)

Danish joy - Denmark is the happiest country. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Pervasive parochials - Irish parents struggle to find non-Catholic schools. (The Atlantic)

Stitching on camera - Norwegian TV will broadcast a knitting competition. (Associated Press)

Pay parity push - UK minister tells women to ask male colleagues how much they earn. (The Guardian)

From the File:

  • Italian Senate panel recommends Berlusconi expulsion.
  • Netanyahu struggles to set the terms in Iranian dispute.
  • Merkel and SPD agree to second round of exploratory talks.
  • Norway cuts Afghan aid over violence against women, corruption.
  • India announces warm-up for world’s biggest election.
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