Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Assad Makes Rare Public Appearance

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Assad Makes Rare Public Appearance

Article excerpt

BEIRUT -- Syria's President Bashar Assad, apparently seeking to counter the impression of a leader in hiding after consecutive days of suspected insurgent bombings in his power base, Damascus, made a rare public appearance Wednesday, visiting workers at an electric station.

Syrian state television and the official SANA news agency said Mr. Assad mingled with Umayyad Electrical Station workers and congratulated them on the occasion of International Labor Day. Photographs showed him dressed in a dark suit as workers showed him the station.

"They want us to be afraid," Mr. Assad said in one television clip. "Well, we won't be afraid." As he spoke, loyalists in the background chanted, "May God protect you."

Mr. Assad, whose government is fighting an increasingly violent insurgency that grew out of his repression of peaceful political protests more than two years ago, is not often seen outside his heavily guarded presidential palace these days. His appearance followed a car bombing Monday that sought to assassinate his prime minister and a bombing Tuesday that killed at least 13 people outside a former Interior Ministry building. The attacks were carried out in the heart of Damascus, the capital, which has remained basically under Assad loyalist forces' control.

His visit to the power station coincided with a new set of explosions in central Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain but with a reporting network in Syria, said rockets hit the Bab Mesalla neighborhood, an area of shops and a transportation hub, and that a bomb detonated near police headquarters on nearby Khalid bin Walid Street, a site of previous bomb attacks. SANA later confirmed the attacks, saying at least two people were killed and 28 wounded. It attributed the attacks to terrorists, the Assad government's blanket description for armed opponents.

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main anti-Assad political organization, said in a statement Wednesday that it condemned such indiscriminate attacks, and that "the bombing of civilian areas is unacceptable, regardless of the circumstances. …

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