ISTANBUL - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of waging ‘state terror’, equating the crimes of the Damascus regime with those of Islamic State (IS) militants.

Ankara is concerned that the focus of the US-led coalition on fighting IS extremists will take attention away from Turkey’s long-standing aim of toppling the Syrian leader. In a speech to the thousands of supporters in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, Erdogan said the Assad regime and IS were both terror groups who should be dealt with accordingly.

‘We cannot leave their fate into the hands of the murderer Assad who is waging a state terror,’ said Erdogan, referring to the 1.5 million Syrian refugees that Turkey has taken in during the conflict. ‘We have always displayed a principled stance towards all terrorist organisations. We are not discriminating against terror organisations, saying this one is good or this one is bad,’ he said in the televised speech.

‘We have adopted the same stance towards ISIS,’ he said using a variant of the name for IS. ‘But other terrorist organisations pose a threat to us too.’ Ankara has vehemently opposed Assad during the three-and-a-half-year Syria conflict but has been criticised for not showing greater involvement in the fight against IS extremists.

Earlier, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: ‘Turkey is against ISIS just the same way that it is against Assad.’ ‘Assad and ISIS are both responsible for all these events and tragedies,’ he told reporters in Ankara. He added: ‘No one can prove that Turkey is supporting ISIS.’ Turkey has been reluctant to intervene militarily against IS militants trying to take the mainly Kurdish town of Kobane just across the border, despite having parliamentary authorisation for military action in Syria.

Ankara has been accused of encouraging the rise of IS with its support for Islamist-tinted rebel groups in Syria seeking to oust Assad and is now seeking a commitment from the West to move against the Syrian leader. Davutoglu ridiculed Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who suggested that parliament should issue a separate mandate for Turkish military action in Kobane. ‘Are we going to issue a separate mandate for each province or district? It’s such a ridiculous proposal,’ Davutoglu scoffed.

Moreover, At least 31 people have been killed and 360 others injured in a four day ‘spiral of violence’ in Turkey led by pro-Kurdish protesters demonstrating against the government’s policy on Syria, the interior minister said Friday.

Interior Minister Efkan Ala pledged that the government would press on with efforts despite the violence to make peace with Kurdish rebels who have a waged a 30-year insurgency for self-rule in the east of Turkey. In addition to the toll of 31 people killed in protests, two policemen were shot dead in the southern city of Bingol late Thursday while inspecting the scene of a demonstration, Ala told reporters.

Bingol province’s police chief was seriously wounded in the attack. Five ‘terrorists’ suspected of gunning them down were themselves killed by the security forces, Ala confirmed. ‘This spiral of violence should immediately be stopped,’ he said in a statement. ‘Everyone should do their part to put an end to these incidents. We should all stand in solidarity with each other.’

Ala said that clashes broke out in 35 cities, and 221 civilians and 139 security officials including police were wounded. Over 1,000 people were detained and 58 people have formally been arrested for their involvement in the protests which caused damage to 212 schools, he said. The violence, which has been concentrated in south-eastern Turkey but also flared in Istanbul and Ankara, has been among the worst rioting seen in the country in years. The official toll has already well exceeded the number of eight people confirmed to have been killed in the May-June 2103 nationwide protests against the ruling party.

According to the official Anatolia agency, most of the deaths occurred in Diyarbakir, Turkey’s main Kurdish city, where 11 people were killed. The fatalities were mainly concentrated in the southeast of Turkey but one person died in protests in Istanbul, it said. The latest deaths happened late Thursday in the southeastern province of Gaziantep, where at least four people died in clashes between rival groups armed with rifles, pistols and axes, the Dogan news agency reported.

But Ala said the government would continue efforts to make peace with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) whose supporters were heavily involved in the violence. ‘We know that our people condemn vandalism, hatred and chaos. We are doing our best to make sure these are not going to happen again,’ he said. The demonstrators responded to a call late Monday by Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party for protests against the government’s lack of action to stop the Syrian border town of Kobane falling to militants. But some of the deadly violence has been blamed on clashes between PKK supporters and backers of the Kurdish Sunni fundamentalist group Huda-Par which is sympathetic to IS.