President Assad may be slaughtering civilians in several cities but that hasn't stopped his loyal minions from responding to an orchestrated show of support for the Syrian dictator.
Flag-waving crowds took to the streets of Syrian cities on Thursday in an orchestrated show of loyalty to President Bashar al-Assad on the first anniversary of an increasingly bloody revolt against his rule.
Official media announced government forces had cleared "armed terrorists" from the northwestern city of Idlib, suggesting the army was gaining ground in the uprising which has cost at least 8,000 lives and crippled the Syrian economy.
Opposition activists said soldiers had fired on people trying to stage anti-regime protests in various locations and reported evidence of fresh atrocities, including the discovery of 23 bodies, some with signs of torture, near Idlib.
State television showed thousands of people in central Damascus, waving portraits of Assad and flags of Syria, Russia and China. Moscow and Beijing have not joined Western nations in backing an Arab League plan for Assad to step aside.
"We sacrifice our blood and souls to you, Bashar," the crowds chanted as three helicopters flew past in a military salute.
Television videoed rallies in numerous cities, including Deraa near the border with Jordan, which was the epicenter of the original protest movement last year but has been filled with security forces backed by tanks in the past 24 hours.
Critics said the government had bused in state employees to the demonstrations and had made participation obligatory.
It's not that Assad doesn't have any supporters. His gangster regime spreads the wealth around to his Alawite followers as well as a series of cronies in and out of the military who control the economy. For the 90% of Syrians who don't benefit by this set up, there is only the street and the blood of martyrs to show for it after a year of protests.