Damascus: President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday ordered a new general amnesty, a day after an offer of "national dialogue" to end Syria's deadly unrest and as a huge crowd rallied in Damascus in his support.

"President Assad has issued a decree granting a general amnesty for crimes committed before the date of June 20, 2011," as per reports.

The President had already ordered a general amnesty on May 31 for all political prisoners, including Muslim Brotherhood members. Hundreds of detainees were released, according to rights groups.

"I sensed that that amnesty was not satisfactory so we are going to extend it to include others, without endangering the security of the state," Assad said. Tens of thousands of people rallied on Tuesday in central Damascus.

Omeyyades Square was turned into a sea of pro-Assad demonstrators, waving Syrian flags and the President's portrait, chanting, "We will sacrifice ourselves for you, Bashar!"

State television said a huge pro-Assad demonstration was also held in Homs, a flashpoint city north of Damascus. "Millions of Syrians" flocked to squares around the country to hail his speech, it said.

In the address, three months into anti-regime protests and a crackdown by security forces that has cost hundreds of lives, Assad said a national dialogue could lead to a new constitution but refused to reform Syria under "chaos."

Pro-democracy activists, however, condemned the speech and vowed the "revolution" -- now in its fourth month – would carry on, while the US State Department called for "action, not words."

European foreign ministers, meanwhile, agreed to beef up sanctions on the embattled President over his regime's deadly crackdown on protests, with some calling on him to reform or "step down."



(Agencies)