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Mass rally behind Syrian president as two more killed

27 october 2011, 09:58
A woman displays her hands painted in colours of Yemen and Syria flags during a demonstration in Sanaa. ©Reuters
A woman displays her hands painted in colours of Yemen and Syria flags during a demonstration in Sanaa. ©Reuters
Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Wednesday, as activists said his security forces shot dead two more civilians, AFP reports.

The demonstrators, waving Syrian flags and brandishing pictures of Assad, swarmed to Omayyad mosque in the heart of Damascus for the rally, chanting, "The people want Bashar al-Assad."

State news agency SANA said the demonstration was being held under the banner, "Long live the homeland and the chief of the homeland; the Syrian people are one family."

The mass show of support for Assad came as an Arab delegation led by Qatar was headed for Damascus for mediation between the Syrian government and its opponents, and amid a new flareup of violence.

Headed by Qatar, the delegation includes the foreign ministers of Algeria Egypt, Oman and Sudan, in addition to Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi. It was due to begin talks with Syrian officials in the capital mid-afternoon.

Arabi said he hoped "the Syrian regime would agree to this initiative, and begin with genuine reforms," in comments to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat published on Wednesday.

"It is my prerogative as secretary general of the Arab League to meet with any member of the peaceful opposition," said Arabi, referring to a "disagreement" with the Syrian regime after he met members of the Syrian opposition.

At an urgent session in Cairo on October 16, the 22-member Arab League called for "national dialogue" between Syria's government and the opposition by the end of October to help end the violence and avoid "foreign intervention" in Syria.

Syria's representative to the Arab League Youssef Ahmad had slammed what he said was a "conspiracy" against President Bashar al-Assad's regime at the Cairo meeting.

The initiative has also been opposed by the opposition.

"Arabs, do not get more involved in the bloodshed against us," said a statement by the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a coalition representing some 40 opposition blocs.

"We will not accept anything less than Bashar al-Assad's resignation and his trial," they said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a civilian was killed when security forces fired rocket-propelled grenades in several neighbourhoods of the flashpoint city of Homs, while another died in a military barrage in Idlib province.

The Syrian opposition meanwhile called for a general strike across the country in protest against the regime's brutal crackdown on protest that has left at least 3,000 people dead since mid-March, according to UN figures.

Syria's leading opposition group, the Syrian National Council, urged "all categories of people to go on strike" on Wednesday ahead of the launch of a massive general strike and campaign of civil disobedience aimed at toppling the regime.

"The strike is an expression of the desire to pursue a peaceful campaign until victory," a NSC statement said, adding that a strike had been observed in Daraa, cradle of the protests, for the past six days.

Protests against the Syrian regime erupted in March and have shown no signs of dying down despite the rising death toll.

In Washington, US senators said the UN Security Council should refer credible charges of crimes against humanity by Assad to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In a letter to Washington's UN envoy, Susan Rice, the lawmakers said it was time for the ICC to look into "deeply troubling and grave charges" against Assad amid his government's bloody crackdown on protestors.

"It is paramount that the Security Council refers credible allegations of crimes against humanity by President Bashar al-Assad's regime to the International Criminal Court," they wrote.

Democratic Senators Dick Durbin, his party's number-two in the chamber, as well as Benjamin Cardin, Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer signed the letter to Rice.

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