Syrians stage another pro-regime rally
BEIRUT (AP) — Tens of thousands of Syrians held a massive rally Thursday in support of embattled President Bashar Assad, but the regime's crackdown on dissent continued in opposition areas as security forces killed at least four people, including a teenager, activists said.
The demonstration in the coastal city of Latakia came one day after a similar pro-regime rally in the capital, Damascus, as authorities try to galvanize supporters in the face of a seven-month uprising against Assad.
The U.N. estimates that the government crackdown on protests has killed 3,000 people.
On Thursday, a 14-year-old boy in the southern village of Dael was among at least four people killed by Syrian forces during security raids, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group.
A video posted online by activists showed blood pouring from the teenager's head, soaking his blue T-shirt, as another boy screamed in the background.
The video could not be independently verified. Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting, making witness accounts and activist groups crucial sources of information about the uprising.
It is difficult to gauge the strength of the revolt in Syria, a country of 22 million people, although the movement has been remarkably resilient.
But the regime is strong as well and in no imminent danger of collapse, setting the stage for what could be a drawn-out and bloody stalemate.
Assad's main bases of support include Syrians who have benefited financially from the regime, minority groups who feel they will be targeted if the Sunni majority takes over, and others who see no clear and safe alternative to Assad.
Both sides of the conflict remain energized. Anti-regime protesters pour into the streets across the country every Friday, defying the near-certain barrage of shelling and sniper fire.
But the opposition has yet to bring out the middle- and upper-middle classes in Damascus and Aleppo, the two economic powerhouses, although protests have been building. Latakia, the site of Thursday's pro-regime demonstration, has strong historical ties to the Assad family's minority Alawite sect.
The Syrian government insists the unrest is being driven by terrorists and foreign extremists looking to stir up sectarian strife.
On Wednesday, an Arab committee held talks with Assad over ways to end the crisis, which began in mid-March as the Arab Spring uprisings swept the region.
The Arab committee is trying to start talks between Assad's government and its opponents, but protest leaders reject any dialogue with the regime while it continues its brutal crackdown.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani, who heads the committee, was quoted by State TV as saying that the Arab delegation felt that the Syrian government is eager to work with the committee to reach a solution.
Sheik Hamad told reporters that the Arab committee and the Syrian government will hold another meeting on Sunday either in Syria or in Qatar.
Bassem Mroue can be reached on http://twitter.com/bmroue