Middle East

Huge Damascus rally backs President Bashar al-Assad

Tens of thousands of Syrians have rallied in support of President Bashar al-Assad in the capital Damascus.

Some held placards saying "the army and people are with you, Bashar al-Assad" and "Syria is our country and Assad our president", reported AFP news agency.

Others thanked Russia and China for blocking a UN resolution condemning Syria's crackdown last week.

The UN says nearly 3,000 Syrians have died since anti-government protests began in March.

Activists say tens of thousands of Syrians have been arrested.

Allies losing patience?

The government blames armed "terrorist gangs" for the trouble, and says 1,100 members of the security forces have been killed.

In Wednesday's demonstration, thousands of Syrians waved the national flag under a huge portrait of President Assad, in the biggest show of the support for months.

The rally took place in the centre of Damascus - an area largely untouched by the anti-government protests that have convulsed the city suburbs and other parts of the country.

At the start of the demonstration, a man suspended by rope from a helicopter flew over the crowd, bearing the Russian and Chinese flags, Reuters news agency reported.

Beijing and Moscow vetoed a draft UN resolution threatening "measures" against the Syrian regime if it did not end its repression of the protests on 4 October.

But both countries have also recently urged Damascus to adopt reforms swiftly - a sign, correspondents say, that they too may be losing patience with the Assad government.