Peace marches were set for cities around the world Saturday, in solidarity with the civilian victims of the brutal Syrian civil war, but not in Winnipeg -- where organizers said they gave way to the Santa Claus parade.
"Because of the Winnipeg Santa Claus parade we decided to do it tomorrow," says Dima Alsayed, a Walk 4 the Children of Syrian organizer.
Some 60,000 Winnipeggers were expected to crowd into downtown for the annual Santa Claus parade to see Santa, watch floats and take part in block parties that line Portage Avenue from Memorial Boulevard to Main Street. The parade, to start at 5 p.m. and wrap up with fireworks at The Forks, kicks off the holiday season and marks one of the city’s biggest events of the calendar.
On Sunday about 60 people are expected to turn out for the Syrian peace march at the legislature at 2 p.m., Alsayed said.
Around the world Saturday, thousands were expected to turn out in support of Syrian victims of the civil war. The event was organized by a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group called the Syrian American Alliance, after the success of a similar walk in a series of American cities in September. Events were organized for most American and Canadian cities, and in Australia, Brazil, Europe and the Middle East.
Meanwhile in the latest news out of Syria, Reuters reported Saturday that rebel forces captured an airport near the Iraqi border that had been held by the Syrian military. President Bashar Assad’s forces were reported to have bombed the airport in retaliation.
The revolt, now into its 20th month, started after the Arab Spring revolutions that brought down regimes from Tunisia to Egypt. In Syria, they also started as peaceful protests but fast morphed into a civil war.
Assad’s struggle to put down the rebels with brutal bombings has consumed most of the country. Activists say the war has killed more than 38,000 people, according to news services.
Alsayed said she was born in Syria and moved to Canada 10 years ago where she settled down and is now raising a family in Winnipeg. Her daughter, 7, helped make some of the placards to be handed out to supporters in the Winnipeg march Sunday.
"She’s Canadian but we have so many relatives living there who have lost their homes and children who have lost their parents so I asked her to imagine what she would say if we were over there. She wrote a couple of them. They say things like 'I lost my home. I lost my father,'" Alsayed said.
The revolution sparked an exodus of exiles from Syria and some of the disapora now lives in Winnipeg.
A small Syrian community has grown from three families to about 50 people in Winnipeg.
Syrians here recently formed their own association, the Syrian Assembly of Manitoba, which co-ordinated the march with the Syrian American Alliance in Washington.
The event begins at 2 p.m. and march route will use the sidewalks. It is to move north on Memorial Boulevard, east on York Avenue, south on Garry Street and west on Broadway back to the Legislature.