Syria's Assad Rallies Supporters in Damascus
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared in public Wednesday in Damascus for the first time in months to rally supporters.
"Shabiha forever, for your eyes, Assad!" shouted the crowd in response to his presence on the stage. The words, in Arabic, are a reference to the president's loyalist security force which has been accused of torture and committing other atrocities against unarmed anti-government protesters.
"I belong to this street," Assad told the thousands of supporters who showed up for the rally in the capital's Ummayyad Square. In a 100-minute speech, the president told the crowd, "We'll make this phase end for [the opposition] and their plans. We will win, without any doubt."
U.S. officials responded to Assad's message quite differently, however. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at a briefing in Washington following Assad's rally, "In our view it's time for him to step aside. He's not the guy who can lead Syria in the direction that it needs to go."
The United Nations Human Rights Council has charged Assad with crimes against humanity, holding him personally responsible for the actions of his army and security force.
According to the United Nations at least 6,000 Syrians have died since the anti-government uprising was ignited last March with the advent of the "Arab Spring" revolts that spread across the region, toppling at least four other regimes. The United States charged this week that hundreds more have died since the arrival of an Arab League observer mission that was supposed to ensure Assad fulfilled an agreement to end the violence.
Assad continues to blame the violence against his people on "terrorist gangs" and "foreign intervention," as have many other Middle Eastern dictators in crisis, including former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.