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UPDATED: Turkey rejects calls for ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh

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Turkey rejected “superficial” demands for a ceasefire on Saturday in the South Caucasus, where it backs Azerbaijan, after a week of fierce fighting with ethnic Armenian forces in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

While Russia, the United States and France have called for an end to hostilities, regional power Turkey has staunchly supported the Azeris and has repeated that what it called Armenian “occupiers” must withdraw.

Armenia said on Friday it would work with the three big powers toward a ceasefire. But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said they should have no role in peacemaking and on Saturday said Ankara backs the “oppressed” in the South Caucasus.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told Italian newspaper La Stampa that Russia could play an intermediating role in a ceasefire “only if it is neutral”.

“Superficial demands for an immediate end to hostilities and a permanent ceasefire will not be useful this time,” he was quoted as saying by Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency.

Moscow has a defence pact with Armenia, but also good relations with Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh, where ethnic Armenians are the vast majority, said on Saturday that 51 more service personnel had been killed in the war with Azerbaijan, a sharp rise in the death toll from a week of fierce fighting.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan said on Sunday that Armenian armed forces had shelled its second city of Ganja in a major new escalation of the conflict in the South Caucasus.

Armenia denied that it fired towards Azerbaijan, but the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan, said his forces had destroyed a military airbase located in Ganja.

“Permanent military units located in the large cities of Azerbaijan from now on become the targets of the defence army,” said Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan.

The Azeri defence ministry said the cities of Terter and Horadiz near the de-facto border with Nagorno-Karabakh were under heavy shelling, while the breakaway region’s military said its capital, Stepanakert, was under bombardment.

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