Pro-Assad rally draws thousands to Syrian capital
Thousands of people gathered in the heart of Syria to show their support and loyalty to President Bashar Al-Assad. He is still struggling to quell a nationwide uprising despite promises of reforms.But his supporters say the government needs more time to push through change.
Fourteen people were killed by gunfire in two Syrian towns on Thursday in clashes between pro- Assad troops and gunmen believed to be army defectors, a human rights group reported.
Six soldiers and two army deserters as well as one civilian were killed in fighting in the southern town of Haara and five civilians were killed in the northern province of Idlib.
RT's Tesa Arcilla has travelled to Damascus to see for herself what is happening on the ground.
"America, out, out, Syria will stay free," chanted the crowd in the capital Damascus on Wednesday, many of them carrying pictures of Al-Assad and Syrian flags.
Thousands showing their support for the government is a sharp contrast with the images of anti-government protests which have been sought in other cities. But one thing is clear – there is political discourse, sometimes even tension, trickling down to the most basic unit of society.
Voices of support and continuing dissent ring out across the city, speaking of past and future unrest.
Polar opposites in their demands, they are united by a newfound zeal to take a stand.
What the demonstrators would indeed oppose is a decision coming from the outside. The belief that Syria’s choice should be made within the country was shared by most Damascus demonstrators.
"God, Syria and Bashar," sang the students, elderly, rich and poor gathered for the rally. Their slogans warned the European Union not to intervene in their country.
Two military helicopters were spotted by RT’s crew circling low over the pro-Assad rally in the Syrian capital. The helicopters flew Russian and Chinese flags, to mark the two countries’ vetoing of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria last week. Drafted by France, Germany, Portugal and the UK, the resolutions called for harsh sanctions to punish the country for the ongoing brutal crackdown on anti-regime protesters.
Presidential supporter Alla, along with her husband and young children, were one of many families who braved the heat and joined the crowds in downtown Damascus.
“It's true that we knew nothing about politics before but now we are taking a stand. Even if I'm a Sunni Muslim, I'm pro this president,” Alla told RT.
“Ever since most people started revealing their political stance openly, some people would mock me and say, ‘Since when do you know about politics? What do you know?’ There are divisions among family members, some are pro-Assad, some are anti. But that's how it is,” she explained.
It appears that political apathy is becoming less of an option for citizens of a nation now under intense international scrutiny.
“We never watched the news, I was never worried, I never had an interest in politics. Now we read books, we watch the news, we read articles, we check Facebook. We want to know more. Unless you have the right background and really know your country, you can't take a stand,” says Roula Yazaji, another Al-Assad supporter.
And then there are those, like political activist Louay Hussein, who are no strangers to picking a side and making it known.
He has long voiced his discontent at what he calls a repressive regime. Today, Facebook is one of his main tools in co-ordinating dissent.
“Activism has evolved in Syria,” he told RT. “For me, I feel that my voice goes further now. Back then, it started with stating an opinion, going to jail, then hitting a dead end. No-one would even know about it. That has changed now that people are more politically aware.”
Hussein has been thrown into jail, says he was tortured, and finds himself constantly looking over his shoulder.
“I was detained for spreading the word on the violent crackdown in Daraa,” he said. “But I'd feel like a coward if I didn't risk my life while those on the streets are doing so, asking for the regime to fall.”
A call staunchly opposed by those on the other side.
“Everybody wants change. Everybody wants reforms. They just have to give the government a chance. Give them time,” argues Al-Assad supporter Roula Yazaji.
While political curiosity and activism among Syrians are growing whatever side of the divide they’re on, people see the future of their country is at stake. But all are adamant that that future is firmly in their own hands.
Syria has been divided by six months of violent crackdowns on anti-regime protests that have left nearly 2,900 people dead, according to the UN. Pressure has been building on Al-Assad to step down, including widening international sanctions against the regime.
Watch more in RT's special report.