Assad makes public appearance in Syrian capital

DAMASCUS (AFP) - President Bashar al-Assad made a public appearance on Saturday at Damascus University for the unveiling of a monument dedicated to students killed across Syria since an uprising erupted against his rule, state media said.

"President Bashar al-Assad joined thousands of students and the families of martyred students at the unveiling of a statue to the memory of the martyrs of Syria's universities at the University of Damascus," state television reported.

A photograph posted on the presidency's Facebook page showed Mr Assad surrounded by bodyguards and well-wishers, arms extended in a bid to shake his hand.

On January 15, twin explosions at Aleppo University killed 87 people, most of them students and wounded around 160 others.

The regime and rebels traded accusations of responsibility for the blasts in Syria's second city.

On March 28, at least 15 students were killed and six wounded when a mortar struck the cafeteria of the faculty of architecture at Damascus University, state media said, accusing "terrorists" - the regime's terms for insurgents - of responsibility.

Saturday's visit is the second time Mr Assad has been seen in public this week, after a tour on Wednesday of a Damascus electrical plant to mark Labour Day.

The embattled leader has made increasingly rare public appearances since the beginning of the uprising against his regime in March 2011.

Before the May 1 visit, his last reported public appearance was to an educational centre in the capital on March 20.

Before that, he had not been seen publicly since January 24, when he attended prayers at a mosque in a northern district of Damascus.