In a government-orchestrated campaign to counter international pressure, hundreds of thousands of civil servants and students took Monday off to protest a U.N. report implicating Syria in the killing of a former Lebanese prime minister.
The action appeared to be a last ditch effort by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad to win support a day before a U.N. Security Council meeting is expected to convene and pile up the pressure on Damascus.
While the United States and Britain are pushing for an international stand against Syria in the wake of a damning U.N. report into Rafik Hariri's Feb. 14 killing, France indicated Monday it would not support sanctions against Syria before the ongoing probe had finished its work.
Syria's official news agency SANA said "hundreds of thousands" of Syrian citizens protested the "unjust accusations" in the report released last week by chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis. The report implicated top Syrian security officials in Hariri's assassination.
The Syrian government has rejected the findings and described Mehlis' report as being politicized, biased and inaccurate.
The mass demonstrations in Damascus and Aleppo, northern Syria, were a concerted attempt by all branches of government to drum up support for Assad amid the heightening international pressure. A.M.
Russian small missile ships - the Grad Sviyazhsk and the Great Ustyug - set off for a mission to the Mediterranean Sea