Syrian President Rallies Supporters, Western Journalist Killed in Violence

Posted January 11th, 2012 at 11:45 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance, telling thousands of supporters in Damascus that his government will triumph over what he calls a “conspiracy” behind 10 months of opposition unrest.

Meanwhile, a French television reporter became the first Western journalist to be killed since the unrest began 10 months ago.

France 2 Television says Gilles Jacquier died in a mortar or rocket attack in Homs, which has been a hub of anti-Assad unrest. At least one other foreign journalist was reported wounded.

A British-based Syrian rights group tells VOA that government tank fire struck a group of journalists, causing several casualties. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called the attack an “odious act” and demanded an investigation.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Assad, surrounded by security guards and casually dressed, spoke to a cheering crowd in the capital's Omayyad Square, saying he drew strength from their presence. He said that “true patriots” are defending the nation.

The speech came a day after Mr. Assad gave a televised address vowing to use an “iron fist” against “terrorists” whom he says are driving the revolt against his 11-year autocratic rule.

The United Nations estimates at least 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising, many of them peaceful protesters attacked by Syrian security forces. Others have been killed in fighting between the Syrian military and army defectors who have joined the rebellion in recent months.

An Arab League delegation that has been touring Syria to monitor the unrest faced new criticism Wednesday from a former member. In a television interview with al-Jazeera, Anwer Malek said he quit the observer team to protest what he called the Syrian government's war crimes against the population.

Malek described the monitoring mission as a “farce” and said the government “fabricated” most of what the observers saw.

In another development, Cyprus says a Russian ship that stopped in a Cypriot port while carrying weapons bound for Syria has promised to change its destination.

Cypriot authorities allowed the ship to leave the port Wednesday, a day after it docked in the country with around 35 to 60 tons of munitions on board.