Pro-Assad rallies on uprising anniversary
DAMASCUS - Agence France-PresseHuge rallies played up support for Syria’s president yesterday despite a new “massacre” report as a deadly revolt against his autocratic rule entered a second year.
International peace envoy Kofi Annan, meanwhile, demanded answers from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime before the U.N. Security Council re-enters the fray in a conflict which monitors now say has cost more than 9,100 lives.
State television showed tens of thousands of people waving Syrian flags and al-Assad’s portrait in squares in Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo, Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, Suweida to the south and Hasaka in the northeast.
The cities have been relatively unscathed by the deadly crackdown on dissent. The authorities, which have blamed the bloodshed on foreign-backed “terrorist gangs,” announced a “global march for Syria” to counter anti-regime demonstrations being organized this week by the opposition across the world.
Against a backdrop of a sea of flags, including the colors of Syria’s Russian and Iranian allies as well as Lebanon’s Shiite group Hezbollah, a bugler played in Damascus before a military band struck up the national anthem. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights yesterday gave a breakdown of 9,113 deaths for the past 12 months: apart from 6,645 civilians, it said the toll included 1,991 members of al-Assad’s security forces and 471 rebels.
Annan still in contact with Syrian officials
In Aleppo and on the outskirts of Damascus, security forces broke up scattered anti-regime protests, according to the Local Coordination Committees, which organize demonstrations on the ground. Troops loyal to al-Assad have also pummelled rebel strongholds across Syria this week. Opposition activists said up to 130 tanks and armored vehicles converged on Deraa on March 14, raking buildings with machinegun fire and carrying out house-to-house raids.
U.N.-Arab League mediator Annan has urged al-Assad to speed up efforts to end the bloodletting in Syria. The former U.N. chief had received the president’s response to “concrete proposals” he submitted to the Syrian leader in Damascus last weekend but had more “questions and is seeking answers.”
Annan, who is to brief the Security Council on his mission by videoconference from Geneva today, “is still in contact with the Syrian authorities -- the dialogue continues,” said his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.