Middle East

Syria unrest: Pro-Assad rallies in Damascus and Aleppo

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Media captionThousands gathered in Damascus in support of President Bashar al-Assad

Tens of thousands are demonstrating in cities across Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, who has faced a wave of unrest in recent days.

The pro-Assad rallies come in response to a government appeal on Monday.

President Assad is widely expected to announce a raft of changes in the next day or two in response to the unrest, which has left dozens of people dead.

Correspondents say the government is expected to resign later on Tuesday for failing to meet people's demands.

Live footage being aired on Syrian state television shows crowds of people in the capital Damascus, as well as Aleppo, Hasaka, Homs and Hama.

The demonstrators are chanting slogans such as: "God, Syria and Bashar only" and "We will sacrifice our lives and blood for you, Bashar".

School children were given the day off and bank employees and other workers were allowed two hours to attend the demonstrations, the AP news agency reports.

Emergency laws

Mr Assad is trying to quell almost two weeks of pro-democracy protests against his regime that human rights groups say has left more than 60 people dead.

The unrest has become the biggest threat to the rule of President Assad, 45, who succeeded his father Hafez on his death in 2000.

The turmoil started after the arrest of several teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall in the southern city of Deraa, and quickly spread to other provinces.

Violence has eased in the past few days, but Syrian security forces are patrolling the streets of Deraa and the Mediterranean port city of Latakia.

On Monday, troops fired tear gas at hundreds of people who had gathered in Deraa and were calling for more political freedom, witnesses said.

Mr Assad is expected to address the nation in the next 24 hours to announce that he is lifting a nearly 50-year state of emergency and moving to annul other harsh restrictions on civil liberties and political freedom.

Analysts say there are divergent views within the Syrian leadership on handing the crisis - one group favours a crackdown on the dissent while the other prefers dialogue.