Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Syria's
hard-line regime poured into the streets of the capital Damascus and at least four other major cities Tuesday, waving pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad
and flags as the government tried to show it has mass support in the face of protests demanding more freedoms in this tightly controlled Arab state.
The Syrian president promised on Sunday to make a public statement on a reform program to strengthen democracy and modernize the economy. Despite the fact that Assad has yet to stick to his word, his followers took to the streets to support their president.
The Syrians participating in the "loyalty to the nation" march carried flags and pictures of Assad.
"The people want Bashar Assad!" chanted protesters in a central Damascus square. Men, women and children gathered in front of a huge picture of Assad freshly put up on the Central Bank building. "We will sacrifice our blood, our souls and our lives for Bashar. God, Syria and Bashar and that's it. One, one, one, there is only one nation of Syria."
Protesters in Damascus (Photo: AFP)
Meanwhile, Syria's independent Al-Watan newspaper said the Cabinet was expected to resign during its weekly meeting Tuesday. However, the resignations will not affect Assad, who holds the lion's share of power in the authoritarian regime.
The Syrian president is facing the biggest challenge to his 11-year rule as anti-government protests that began in a southern city exploded across several Syrian cities Friday.
Security forces launched a swift crackdown, opening fire in at least six locations around the country - including the capital, Damascus, and the country's main port of Latakia. Crowds converged on Daraa's main square on Monday, chanting: "We want dignity and freedom" and "No to emergency laws".
At least 61 people have been killed since March 18, according to Human Rights Watch.
Assad meets with Cyprus foreign minister (Photo: AFP)
Syrian exile Farid Ghadry told Ynet Monday in a reassuring interview in the US that the protestors "have no money to get married and acquire the basic things in life," adding that the young demonstrators have no interest in war with Israel, but rather, care about their socioeconomic future.
"Don't fear the fall of Bashar Assad. Syria will not fall into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood," said Ghadry. "If the Muslim Brotherhood had a charismatic leader of Ayatollah Khomeini's type in Iran, you would already see his picture on Syria's streets."