Jonathan Burch — Reuters May 12, 2013
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the Turkish city of Antakya on Sunday, a day after bombs killed nearly 50 people in a nearby town as Syria‘s civil war spills into the region.
Several hundred people, mostly leftist and nationalist demonstrators, marched through the center of the city no more than 50 km (30 miles) from the Syrian frontier, carrying banners and shouting anti-government slogans while onlookers cheered.
The protests came after two car bombs ripped through the center of Reyhanli on Saturday, a border town less than half an hour away and the latest flashpoint in the spread of violence from Syria, killing 46 and wounding scores more.
Ankara has blamed fighters loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the attacks and said they will not go unanswered.
But many in this frontier province of Hatay, a melting pot of sectarian, ethnic and religious groups, some of whom share Assad’s Alawite creed, blame their own government and its policy on Syria for the bloodshed spilling onto Turkish soil.
Turkey has taken in more than 400,000 Syrian refugees, many of whom have settled in Hatay, and has thrown its full weight behind the armed opposition fighting to overthrow Assad, although it denies supplying weapons.
Fighters are able to cross back and forth across the frontier virtually unchallenged, unsettling many on the Turkish side of the border, who say more and more radical groups are joining the opposition ranks.
“We have a message for our people: We will rid our city of the jihadist murderers,” read one of the protesters’ banners.
“Hands off Syria,” read another, with a picture of Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama wearing military helmets with a fighter jet in the foreground.
“We don’t have a problem with the Syrian refugees who come here to shelter, but we are against the jihadists and murderers on our streets,” one man in the crowd shouted.
“The people of Reyhanli were not alone,” the crowd shouted back, before breaking into chants calling on Erdogan to resign.
Others tried to dispel suggestions their views are based on sectarian or religious lines.
One man stood silently holding a small placard, which read: “Alawites stand together with their Sunni brothers,” a reference to the bombings in Reyhanli which is a predominantly Sunni town.
A boy next him had drawn a crescent moon, a Star of David and a cross, representing Islam, Judaism and Christianity, with the words “This unity cannot be broken,” written above.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; editing by Andrew Roche)