06/15/2011, 00.00
SYRIA – TURKEY
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Giant pro-Assad rally in Damascus, bishop says 80 per cent of the people behind him

A 2.3-kilometre flag is carried through the streets of the capital. Syria’s Red Crescent society and its Turkish counterpart organise the repatriation of thousands of refugees who crossed into Turkey following the attack against Jisr al-Shughour. Syrian authorities announce a “limited” military operation against Maraat an-Numan.
Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A big rally in favour of the government of Bashar al-Assad was held today in Damascus. Titled "Hold with Us the Biggest Syrian Flag", the demonstration began in the afternoon at al-Mezzeh Highway in Damascus where hundreds of thousands of people (according to government sources) carried a 2,300-metre long, 18-metre wide Syrian flag.

A rally’s media official, Rabi Dibeh, said the event started with the Syrian national anthem and a moment of silence for recent civilian and military victims. Thousands of balloons coloured with the Syrian flag's colours covered the sky, as youth chanted patriotic songs.

The huge demonstration indirectly confirms statements made by Mgr Antoine Audo SJ, the Chaldean bishop of Aleppo. “The fanatics speak about freedom and democracy for Syria but this is not their goal. They want to divide the Arab countries, control them, seize oil and sell arms. They seek destabilisation and Islamisation,” he said.

"Syria must resist,” he insisted, and “will resist” because 80 percent of the people are behind the government, as are all the Christians."

Bishop Audo accused the media, including the BBC and Al Jazeera, of biased reporting, unfairly criticising the Syrian regime.

President Assad, he argues, has popular support in his action against those who “seek destabilisation and Islamisation”.

Meanwhile, an envoy from the Syrian leader, Hassan Turkman, arrived in Ankara this afternoon for talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Syria’s crisis.

In fact, thousands of refugees have poured over the Turkish border to flee the military crackdown.

Syria has called on the people of Jisr al-Shughour to come home, after an army attack restored government control there.

Syrian authorities also called on the Syrian Red Crescent to co-ordinate with its Turkish counterpart the return of the estimated 8,400 people who fled to Turkey.

However, the authorities have also announced a “limited” military operation in the town of Maraat an-Numan.

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