Assad supporters stage large rally
Tens of thousands of Syrians have packed into a main square of the capital Damascus in a show of support for President Bashar Assad, as he struggles to quell a seven-month-old uprising.
International pressure is building on Assad to step down over his regime's crackdown on anti-government protests that the UN says has left nearly 3,000 people dead.
The demonstration was intended to show that Assad still enjoys the support of many Syrians. The gathering was huge in comparison with frequent, almost daily anti-regime protests across the country since March which are often met by tear gas and gunfire from police and security forces.
Organisers said the Damascus rally was also meant to thank Russia and China for blocking a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its brutal crackdown. Their vetoes last week drew heavy criticism from the US
The demonstrators converged on the Damascus square, waving Syrian flags and pictures of Assad, as well as Russian and Chinese flags.
Some wore white T-shirts bearing a photo of Assad with the Arabic word "Minhibbak" or "we love you". Previous "Minhibbak" pro-Assad demonstrations have been mocked by the opposition and dismissed as staged events. Speakers, including children, read poetry in praise of Assad.
"We support our leader and we do love him," said Lamia Kinani, 50, a housewife, adding that the newly formed opposition Syrian National Council does not represent Syrians.
The Syrian National Council, formed last week in Turkey, includes most main opposition factions. No country or international body has recognised it as a legal representative of the Syrian people.
Demonstrator Annas Assad, 23, a university student, denounced the council as a "group of traitors and is a tool of the West".
Assad still has the firm loyalty of the armed forces, key to his remaining in power.