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Russia attempting 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria, says Turkish prime minister

Turkey's prime minister has accused Russia of carrying out "ethnic cleansing" by targeting Turkmen in Syria. The comments come as Putin invited the UK to examine a Turkish-downed Russian warplane's black box.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday that Russia is attempting to carry out "ethnic cleansing," adding that Moscow is targeting local Turkmen and Sunni Muslim populations in Syria's northern regions.

Russia is trying to make ethnic cleansing in northern Latakia to force [out] all Turkmen and Sunni population who do not have good relations with the regime," Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul.

Turkey has supported "moderate" rebel groups fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, with many Turkmen - ethnic cousins of the Turks - fighting alongside rebels.

"They want to expel them; they want to ethnically cleanse this area so that the [Assad] regime and Russian bases in Latakia and Tartus are protected," the prime minister added. "They don't want to see any Sunni Arab or Turkmen population in that part of Syria. That is the purpose."

Syria's coastal region, including Latakia and Tartus, are considered key to Assad's survival as they are strongholds of government support and the leader's homeland. The area also includes Russian military facilities.

Davutoglu's comments come as Moscow and Ankara continue to exchange insults following the downing of a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border by Turkish forces.

Watch video 01:38

Putin fuels war of words with Turkey

Putin invites 'British experts'

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said on Wednesday that Russian Vladimir Putin invited "British specialists" to examine the black box of the Russian warplane downed by Turkey.

"Vladimir Putin invited British specialists to take part in decoding flight data recorders of the downed Su-24," said the Kremlin following talks over the phone between the Russian leader and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron will "consider President Putin's request to send British experts to assist the investigation," the prime minister's office said, according to AFP news agency.

"We're always happy to help and assist other countries in issues of security," a spokesman for Cameron said.

ls/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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