- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

DAMASCUS, Syria - Tens of thousands of Syrians rallied in support of beleaguered President Bashar Assad yesterday, chanting pro-Syria slogans and calling on the United States to end its attack on their country.

“The whole world’s eyes are on Syria and everybody thinks Syria is a terrorist nation,” said Firas Abarra, 25, an employee at SyriaTel, a major cellular network here that sent text messages on Tuesday to announce the rally.

“One country is against Syria and has managed to get the whole international community to come against Syria,” Mr. Abarra said, referring to the United States.

Crowds of mostly young people blocked a main thoroughfare in Damascus, chanting slogans in support of Mr. Assad and calling on the United States to “get out” of Syrian affairs.

The supporters marched more than a mile to the president’s residence, where Mr. Assad stood on the balcony of his home waving to supporters for more than half an hour.

The show of support came a day after the Hezbollah militia rallied hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Beirut to thank Syria for its role in stabilizing their country.

Tuesday’s pro-Syria crowd in Beirut was far larger than earlier student-led demonstrations calling on Syria to pull out of Lebanon.

“Ninety percent of what Nasrallah said is what Syrians believe in,” said Jamal Osman, 35, a storekeeper holding a picture of the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

In Beirut, Lebanon’s pro-Syrian prime minister, who was forced to resign last week by opposition demonstrations, was virtually assured of being asked to form the next government after a majority of lawmakers backed him yesterday, the Associated Press reported.

An unofficial count gave Omar Karami more than half the votes in the 128-member legislature. A formal announcement by President Emile Lahoud, who consulted with legislators, was expected late last night or early today.

By early evening, 70 of the 78 legislators ” most of them government loyalists ” who met with Mr. Lahoud advised him to restore Mr. Karami, according to an AP dispatch from Beirut.

Opposition lawmakers only sent two representatives and did not put forward a name when they met with Mr. Lahoud.

Opposition leaders in Beirut told The Washington Times yesterday they were not particularly concerned with Mr. Karami’s expected reappointment.

With elections slated for May, opposition leaders said it would be little more than a caretaker government.

Syrians have felt under attack since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last month, which many in the international community are blaming on Syria. The United States has been calling on Syria to pull out of Lebanon immediately.

Mitchell Prothero contributed to this report from Beirut.

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