ISTANBUL - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told a crowd of thousands of Syrian refugees on Sunday their country was preparing for a "sacred birth" that would replace President Bashar Assad with the will of the Syrian people.
Refugee camps in Turkey host 150,000 Syrians who have fled the conflict across the border, and Erdogan visited one of them on Sunday, telling the people there they should regard Turkey as their "second home" and that help was at hand.
"We can see very clearly that God's help is close. Don't forget victory comes to those who are patient," he told the crowd. Moaz Alkhatib, head of the internationally recognized Syrian National Coalition opposition, stood at his side.
Turkey, once close allies with neighboring Syria, turned fiercely against Assad last year over his violent crackdown on anti-government protests and has extended strong support to both refugees and the rebels.
"You have suffered a lot," Erdogan said, wearing a scarf in the form of the rebel Syrian green-white-and-black flag. "The cruel Syrian regime, the cruel Assad, has martyred nearly 50,000 Syrians so far," he said.