SYDNEY: Hundreds of people protested in Australia on Saturday against a possible U.S. military strike on Syria, after President Barack Obama said Washington was weighing "limited, narrow" action against the country.
Carrying placards reading "Hands off Syria" and "Stop the war in Syria", some bearing the face of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, about 300 people gathered in Sydney's Martin Place to voice their concerns about any US military assault.
"Today we all stand here united. We stand here in solidarity with the Syrian government," said speaker Jasmine Saadat to sustained applause.
"Today we are all the voice of the Syrian people, and we are here to tell you Mr Obama that you have the nerve to call President Bashar al-Assad a dictator, yet you make decisions for the Syrian people, and for the people of the United States and for the people of the world on your own accord.
"Obama hear us now and hear us loud, hands off Syria."
Obama has emphasised he has made no "final decision" on unleashing military strikes targeting Assad's regime, but his comments on Friday gave his clearest indication yet that an attack was imminent.
His remarks came after the United States released an intelligence report which concluded that Assad's forces had launched a chemical onslaught in the suburbs of Damascus last week, killing 1,429 people, including at least 426 children.
Protesters in Sydney denied that Assad was responsible, with one man saying he wanted to tell the US to "stop your lies about the chemical weapons".
"We don't believe that he would have gassed his own people," said fellow demonstrator Rania Ali, adding that she supported Assad.
"America just can't go in and bomb a sovereign country," she added.
Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Saturday that there was overwhelming evidence that chemical weapons were used in the attack, and that the Syrian regime was responsible.
Rudd said progress towards a United Nations Security Council resolution on the issue was proving to be "increasingly problematic", given the range of views within the council, as he warned Australians to leave Syria.
"I emphasise again if I there are any Australians currently in Syria just to get the hell out of there. It is not the time to be fooling around," Rudd said.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Australia expected any US response to be swift and limited, and said Washington's position was reinforcing an international norm that chemical weapons never be used.
"We think that if a government in this day and age uses chemical weapons against innocent men, women and children, it deserves a response," Carr said.
"We are confident the Obama administration has weighed carefully what that response will be."