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Turkey protect Syrian refugees after bombings backlash

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Turkish police moved on Sunday to protect Syrian refugees after residents of Reyhanli turned their anger on them in the wake of twin bombings that killed at least 46 people in this border town with Syria.

As cranes removed charred debris from the scenes of Saturday's twin car bombings, blamed on pro-Damascus forces, dozens of cars with Syrian plates lay vandalised in the town's streets.

There was not much left standing near rain-filled craters hollowed out by the force of the explosions, except for random pieces of torn clothing, stained with blood and mud.

There were also hundreds of angry townspeople.

The Syrian refugees "just have to go" yelled Ahmet Keskin, a 36-year old carpenter who said he was "not the least surprised" by the bombings.

"None of this would have happened if they were not here. We gave them shelter and protection, this should not be the price," he said, echoing the prevailing sense of shock in the town of 60,000 now swollen by at least 25,000 Syrian refugees.

Unlike in other border towns, Syrian refugees enjoy relative freedom of movement in Reyhanli, where they live in rented homes and have opened up several shops, mingling with the locals.

"We just do not know anymore who and what crosses that damn border," said Ahmet Atlar, a 50-year-old shop keeper who was having lunch with his family when the second blast pushed in the window frames of his home some two kilometres away.

"For 50 years, I do not remember seeing anything like this: we do not even recognise the corpses of our dead. Whenever there is crime --guns, drugs, theft -- we think of Syrians."

Police patrolled neighbourhoods where refugees live and used yellow tape to prevent people from entering their streets.

Dozens of policeman guarded each block, with most Syrians staying inside their homes.

On every corner, a car with Syrian license plates lay in tatters, windows smashed and doors ripped out.

Many shop owners on the other side of the police line said the damage to the Syrian cars was caused by agitated Reyhanli youths, who broke into sporadic street fights with the refugees following the attacks.

"People are uneasy, they are simmering with anger," said 46-year-old Hikmet Haydut, who survived the second blast at his nearby coffee shop with minor injuries. "We think refugees are not involved in this, but life is getting harder for all of us," he added.

In a pastry shop two minutes drive away from the second blast zone, 23-year-old Syrian Muhammed Almurai, who fled from Idlib with his seven siblings last week, waited tables with anxiety.

"I am a bit uneasy but I know I will be okay," Almurai said, adding that he was confident townspeople would not hurt his family.

"My family will still remain at home for some time. But I have to go out to earn money and feed them."

Many in Reyhanli said their lives have been thrown into chaos since refugees started pouring into Turkey more than a year ago. There are now an estimated 400,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey.

"We know part of the reason Syrians do not come out is because they are embarrassed," said Atlar. "I am afraid these might just be our better days."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130512/turkey-protect-syrian-refugees-after-bombings-backlash