Assad tells Russian TV Erdogan thinks hes a caliph

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lashed out at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing him of behaving like an Ottoman sultan and thinking he is a “caliph”, in an interview with Russian television broadcast Friday.

Ties between the one-time allies Syria and Turkey have soured dramatically over the conflict between Assad's regime and rebels openly supported by Ankara that activists say has now claimed 37,000 lives.

“He (Erdogan) personally thinks that he is the new sultan of the Ottoman (empire) and he can control the region as it was during the Ottoman empire, under a new umbrella,” Assad told state-run Russia Today television.

“In his heart he thinks he is a caliph,” said Assad, referring to the title used by leaders of the Islamic world from the early Arab Islamic dynasties up to the Ottoman empire.

Assad said that the mentality of Erdogan -- who leads the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- was to blame for collapse of relations between the Damascus regime and Ankara.

Erdogan has shifted his policy on Syria from “zero problems to zero friends,” said Assad, who noted that he last spoke with Erdogan in May 2011.

Assad accused Erdogan of wanting the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the Middle East region so that “he (Erdogan) can guarantee his political future.”

Tensions between Ankara and Damascus flared particularly after a Turkish fighter jet was brought down by Syrian fire in June, killing two pilots, and further deteriorated last month when Syrian cross-border shelling killed five Turkish civilians.

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