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30/03/2011 | Syria - Assad supporters stage mass Damascus rally

ABC News Staff

Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of the Syrian capital Damascus to show their support for president Bashar al-Assad, as the the country's government resigned in the latest bid to curb pro-democracy protests in which dozens of people have been killed.


Mr Assad will address the nation soon to announce he is lifting the emergency law and restrictions of liberties which have been in place since 1963, when his Baath Party took power in a coup.

Abolishing emergency rule has been a key demand of the pro-democracy protests which erupted nearly two weeks ago and in which more than 60 people have been killed, drawing international condemnation.

Protesters at first had limited their demands to greater freedoms.

But, increasingly incensed by a security crackdown on them, especially in the southern city of Deraa where protests first erupted, they later demanded the "downfall of the regime".

The calls echo those heard during recent Arab uprisings that have toppled autocratic presidents in Tunisia and Egypt and also motivated rebels fighting Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi.

State television showed people in the Syrian capital Damascus and cities including Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Tartus waving the national flag and pictures of Mr Assad and chanting "God, Syria, Bashar" in what were dubbed "Loyalty Marches".

"Breaking News: the conspiracy has failed!" declared one banner, referring to government accusations that foreign elements and armed gangs are behind the unrest.

"With our blood and our souls we protect our national unity," another said.

Employees and members of unions controlled by Mr Assad's Baath Party, in power since 1963, said they had been ordered to attend the rallies, where there was heavy presence of security police.

All gatherings and demonstrations not sponsored by the state are banned in Syria, a country of 22 million at the sensitive heart of generations of Middle East conflict.

Media organisations operate in Syria under restrictions. The government has expelled three Reuters journalists in recent days - its senior foreign correspondent in Damascus and then a two-man television crew who were detained for two days before being deported back to their home base in neighbouring Lebanon.

- ABC/Reuters

ABC News (AU) (Australia)


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