ANKARA, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Thousands of Syrians living in a
refugee camp in southern Turkey will hold elections this month
to select camp leaders and an administrative council in an
exercise Turkey said was aimed at introducing democracy to
Turkey, which is sheltering tens of thousands of Syrians
fleeing violence in their homeland, is an outspoken critic of
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is battling rebels trying
to overthrow his government.
Refugees aged 18 and over at the Kilis camp housing more
than 13,000 Syrians on the Turkey-Syria border will be able to
vote on Jan. 17 for leaders of different sections of the camp
and for an 18-member administrative council, the Turkish
government said in a statement.
The elections are aimed at "introducing Syrian citizens to
democracy and aim to provide the opportunity to gain experience
in this field", it said.
A total of 42 candidates, who are required to be over the
age of 30, will be able to launch election campaigns with
bi-weekly speeches. They will be provided with flags, placards
and technical support. Each of the six sections in the camp has
to have at least one female candidate.
The election winners will help administer services relating
to security, health, education and religion in coordination with
the local governor's office.
Turkey has tried to showcase the Kilis camp, where refugees
live in heated and air-conditioned containers with refrigeration
facilities, as opposed to tents at other camps.
While Turkey has provided some of the best shelter and
facilities for refugees among Syria's neighbours, overcrowding
remains a concern and sporadic unrest has erupted at camps
including Kilis. Turkish security forces have on occasion used
tear gas to suppress the protests.
There are now more than 150,000 Syrians living in some 15
refugee camps in Turkey, according to the country's disaster
management body (AFAD), and officials say there are tens of
thousands more in towns and cities around the country.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who has likened Assad
to dictators Hitler and Mussolini and accused him of creating a
"terrorist state", has called on the Syrian leader to step down.
Assad has accused Erdogan of being "two-faced" by pursuing a
sectarian agenda in the region and trying to persuade Damascus
to introduce political reforms while ignoring the killings and
democratic shortfalls in Gulf Arab states.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Nick Tattersall and