Government supporters rally in Syria; activists report 19 deaths
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Thousands rallied in support of Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad on Wednesday, and activists demanding the regime's ouster reported at least 19 more deaths at the hands of government security forces.
Images published by the official Syrian Arab News Agency showed what appeared to be tens of thousands demonstrating on behalf of Assad in the northern city of Aleppo, in a repeat of a rally held last week in the capital, Damascus.
SANA reported that the participants in Aleppo, as in Damascus, lauded Russia and China for their veto earlier this month of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have condemned Assad's crackdown on protesters. Other flag-waving participants "delivered speeches and recited poems on defending the homeland and facing the conspiracy," SANA reported.
The Syrian government portrays the seven-month uprising against Assad as a revolt of "armed groups" or "terrorists" acting on behalf of a "foreign agenda."
The SANA account quoted one pro-Assad demonstrator as "wondering at those who still call for foreign interference after its consequences in Iraq and Libya." The Assad government often cites the widespread destruction -- and, in the case of Iraq, sectarian bloodletting -- that followed regime change elsewhere as a cautionary tale for "stable" Syria.
Activists calling for Assad's ouster depict a morally bankrupt government that has cracked down ruthlessly on peaceful protesters, killing thousands and arresting tens of thousands. The opposition Local Coordinating Committees said at least 19 people were killed Wednesday in violence across Syria, including 16 in the vicinity of the volatile city of Homs, where the group reported "heavy shooting and sounds of loud explosions."
More than 3,000 people have been killed in Syria since mass protests erupted in mid-March, according to the United Nations. The government says more than 1,000 security officers have lost their lives.
The government news agency quoted the Syrian foreign minister as saying that Middle Eastern leaders would eventually see the wisdom of rallying behind Assad. Some Arab League members are said to favor suspending Syria from the group if the regime fails to change course.
"Sooner or later," said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, according to the SANA account, "the region's countries will realize that the attempt to destabilize Syria's security won't be in the region's interest."
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad rally in Aleppo on Wednesday. Credit: SANA / EPA