Assad Appears in Public, Thousands Demonstrate Against Syrian Gov't

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

BEIRUT (AP) - Syria's president has made his first public appearance since last month's bombing that killed four of his top security officials.

Bashar Assad was seen on state TV praying at a mosque just a few hundred yards from the presidential palace, marking the start of a Muslim holiday.

Residents of Damascus say security forces surrounded several central mosques in the capital, possibly to confuse people about where Assad would attend the traditional holiday prayers.

Elsewhere in Syria, thousands today staged anti-government protests in mosques and cemeteries after special prayers marking the three-day holiday. Amateur video posted by activists on the Internet shows a large group of worshippers in Damascus chanting that "Assad is the enemy of God."

Assad's appearance comes amid speculation on the whereabouts of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa. He's been said by some members of the opposition to have defected. His office yesterday denied the reports.

Meanwhile, the head of an opposition group is repeating his call for international powers to enforce a no-fly zone that would keep Syrian regime aircraft from being used against rebels.

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