Tens of thousands of Syrians swarmed into a main street in Damascus on Wednesday to dedicate their support to President Bashar al-Assad who was under immense world pressure to pull out troops from Lebanon.
Waving national flags and beating drums, demonstrators coming from around the country flooded the Mazzeh street in the wealthy Mazzeh district, chanting "with our souls and blood we sacrifice ourselves for Assad."
Holding up pictures of their young leader, his late father former President Hafez al-Assad and head of the Lebanese Hezbollah group Hassan Nasrallah, demonstrators pledged to stand by Lebanon and denounced foreign pressures on Syria.
"Syria will not abandon its responsibility toward Lebanon," read one banner. "Our mission is to protect Syria and support its national and pan-Arab position," read another.
"When we are united, the people and the state, we don't fear anything," wrote a large placard, citing Assad's Saturday speech before the parliament.
Crowds then marched to the presidential palace, where Assad waved at the crowds from a balcony.
The rally came two days after Assad signed a gradual pullout agreement with his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud in Damascus.
On Tuesday, a huge pro-Syria demonstration called by Hezbollah was staged in Beirut, the first of its kind against the backdrop of nearly daily anti-Syria protests organized by Lebanese opposition groups.
Syria has been under mounting international pressure to withdraw its 14,000 troops and intelligence services from Lebanon in line with UN Resolution 1559, particularly after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri on Feb. 14.
US President George W. Bush, the leading opponent to Syria's presence in Lebanon, repeated his hard line stance in a speech Tuesday, urging a full and immediate withdrawal of Syrian forces.
The UN resolution as well as Bush became targets of the rally strewn with banners carrying satirizing cartoons.
"Bush, leave us alone. We like our democracy," said one banner.
Meanwhile, demonstrators gathering near the US embassy in Damascus burned the Stars and the Stripes flags and riot police were forced to set up barriers, said witnesses.
According to the official SANA news agency, Syrian citizens in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights will also stage a pro-Assad sit-in Wednesday evening in the city of Majdal Shams.
SANA said the sit-in aims at disclosing the US and western double-standard policy, which ignored all calls to compel Israel to implement the UN Resolutions 242 and 338 calling for a total withdrawal from the Golan and other occupied Arab lands.
(Xinhua News Agency March 10, 2005)