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Assad in surprise visit to Damascus education centre

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad paid an unexpected visit to an educational centre in the capital Damascus on Wednesday, the presidency said on its official Facebook page.

"President Assad made a surprise visit to the Educational Centre for Fine Arts where the education ministry was honoring the families of students who were martyred as a result of terrorist acts, to honour the parents himself," the presidency wrote, alongside photos of Assad at the centre.

The visit appeared to be Assad's first public appearance since he attended prayers at a mosque in a northern district of Damascus to mark the Prophet Mohammed's birthday on January 24th.

Before that he had not been seen in public since a rare speech to supporters on January 6, in which he dismissed calls for his removal and said he had no partners with whom to negotiate for an end to the conflict.

In photos posted on the presidency page, Assad is shown meeting with relatives of those killed in the violence that has enveloped his country, killing more than 70,000 people according to United Nations estimates.

In one, he is shown looking at a poster featuring photos of victims, and in another, talking to a group of women, one of whom is clutching his hand.

The education centre specialises in training teachers of the fine arts, and is in the Tijara neighbourhood of eastern Damascus, near Jubar district, where fighting has raged for months between regime and rebel forces.

The visit came a day after the regime accused opposition forces of using chemical weapons in their battle to oust Assad, a charge the rebels denied.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130320/assad-surprise-visit-damascus-education-centre