Turkey sees sharp rise in Syrian refugees
A Syrian refugee looks on from behind the fences of Boynuyogun Refugee Camp in Reyhanli, Turkey, March 13, 2012. / AFP/Getty Images
Updated at 10:13 a.m. ET
(CBS/AP) In a 24-hour span, around 1,000 Syrians sought refuge in Turkey from the growing turmoil in their own country, at least three times the number of refugees the border has seen in the past week.
Citing an unnamed Turkish official, the Reuters news agency reported Thursday that an estimated 16,000 refugees live in Turkey, most of whom are in refugee camps. The government doesn't expect the flow of refugees to subside and plans to open a new camp in April to house 10,000 more Syrians. Work on a 20,000-person camp is already underway.
"We expect this to continue as long as the operation goes on in Idlib," a Syrian town near the border, the official told Reuters.
In the last week, between 200 and 300 Syrians crossed the border daily into Turkey, Reuters reported.
The United Nations estimates that more than 8,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting, while some 230,000 Syrians have been displaced from their homes, including 30,000 who have fled abroad, CBS News' George Baghdadi reports.
In the Syrian capital of Damascus, thousands poured into the streets Thursday in a show of support for the regime as soldiers tightened their siege in opposition areas on the one-year anniversary of the country's uprising.
Rallies to commemorate the start of the revolt have been planned in cities across Syria and abroad, but local activists report increased army presence near opposition strongholds in an apparent attempt to quash dissent.
"It is clear that they have tightened the siege because they are worried about what people will do for the anniversary," said activist Adel al-Omari in the southern province of Daraa. "There are more troops at the checkpoints and they are arresting lots of people."
Other activists accused the government of forcing people to attend demonstrations sporting the regime of President Bashar Assad poured into the streets. The government-orchestrated gatherings were apparently an attempt to overshadow the anniversary.
Streets of Damascus were clogged by convoys of cars, their young drivers whooping deliriously and tooting their horns in a cacophony of support for Assad, Baghdadi reports.
"We are your men, Bashar," people yelled as they marched toward Omayyad square near Assad's residence, carrying his pictures and countless Syrian flags.
Syria's state-run television pre-empted its regular programming to broadcast marches across the country live from Damascus, Aleppo, Hassakah and Latakia and hosting political analysts to lavish praise on Assad, Baghdadi reports.
The march in Damascus was called to protest a "year-old conspiracy" against their country. Assad and his supporters say the uprising is not a popular revolt, but a foreign scheme being carried out by terrorists and gangsters to destroy the country.
Syrians began taking to the streets in mid-March last year to call for political reforms, with the most significant demonstrations erupting on March 18. The protests spread as Assad's security forces violently cracked down. Some in the opposition have since taken up arms to fight government troops.
In the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising began, activist Raed al-Suleiman said Syrian forces backed by tanks entered early Thursday and rounded up shopkeepers.
"There are random arrests in parts of the city, most of them those who opened their shops," he said. "They put some of them on buses to take them to a demonstration."
The Syrian government has prevented most media from operating in the country throughout the uprising, and activist accounts could not be independently verified.
Throughout the uprising, the opposition has been hobbled by disorganization and infighting and the primary opposition groups disagree on what day the uprising began.
Syrians in Paris have organized a rally for Thursday evening in front of City Hall to mark the year anniversary. Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, is to attend.
Others argue that the uprising started March 18 with the first large protests in a number of Syrian cities, including the southern city of Daraa, where the first protesters were killed by security forces.
Reflecting the declining security situation, Saudi Arabia said late Wednesday it had closed its embassy in Damascus and pulled out its diplomats and staff.
The U.S. and many other European and Arab countries have also closed their embassies.
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