REPORTING FROM ALEPPO, SYRIA, AND BEIRUT -- As the United States and allied nations continued to criticize Russia and China for vetoing a United Nations resolution on Syria, hundreds of residents of the city of Aleppo came out in cold, windy and rainy weather Tuesday to thank the two countries.
The rally coincided with the visit to Damascus of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met with President Bashar Assad and was greeted in the Syrian capital with all the pomp and circumstance of a visiting head of state.
Russia and China on Saturday vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Syrian government’s crackdown on dissent and backed an Arab League plan calling on Assad to cede power. The next day, a rally of thanks occurred outside the Russian Consulate in Aleppo.
In Aleppo’s Sadullah bin Jabri Square, not far from the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party in Syria's second-largest city, some men and women waved Russian, Chinese and Syrian flags Tuesday. Others danced the dabke, a traditional Arab dance, to patriotic music.
One man on stage held up a photo of Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.
"With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Bashar," the crowd chanted.
Schoolchildren dressed in their uniforms and carrying backpacks weaved through the crowd. Residents streamed into the square throughout the morning. But many in the city didn't know about the rally; drivers leaned out of car windows asking fellow motorists the reason for the traffic jam around the square.
Although Russia and China have been lauded in pro-Assad strongholds such as Aleppo, the reaction has been distinctly different in opposition enclaves, where demonstrators have called for Assad’s ouster.
As people celebrated in Aleppo, residents of the battlefield city of Homs, 100 miles to the south, were huddling in their homes amid heavy government shelling, opposition activists said.
The opposition has labeled the veto by Russia and China “a license to kill” for the Assad government.
-- Times staff in Aleppo and Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut
Photo: Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government wave Syrian, Chinese and Russian flags in Damascus on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. Government supporters gathered on the streets to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and celebrate the Russian-Chinese double veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images