Massive demonstrations clogged the streets of Syria's two main cities Monday, in opposition to the U.N. report implicating top Syrian officials in the death of former Lebanese leader Rafik al-Hariri.
Tens of thousands of protesters thronged central Damascus, waving Syrian flags and photos of President Bashar al-Assad. A demonstration in the northern city of Aleppo was reported to be even bigger.
The protesters shouted, "With our blood, with our souls, we will defend you, Bashar." In front of international television cameras, they carried banners in both Arabic and English, denouncing the U.N. report on the investigation into the Hariri assassination. Urging the crowd on, a speaker in Damascus said, "We are here for the truth."
The government-supported protests were carefully choreographed shows of support for the Syrian leadership, a day before the U.N. Security Council is set to debate the report on the investigation into the February car bombing that killed Rafik al-Hariri.
The report's author, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, said the assassination could not have been carried out without the complicity of Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services. The Mehlis report implicated several senior Syrian officials, including President Assad's brother-in-law, who heads Syrian military intelligence.
Syrian officials have rejected the report, calling it politicized. They say the United States and Israel are behind what they consider a campaign to discredit Syria.
U.S. and British ambassadors to the United Nations will be pressing for tough sanctions against Syria when the Security Council discusses the report Tuesday.
France says it wants to wait until the investigators have finished their probe into the Hariri killing, before deciding on sanctions. The deadline has been extended until December. The French foreign minister on Monday called for a Security Council resolution demanding that Syria cooperate fully with the investigation.