Syrians stream to embassies to vote in controversial poll

Last Updated: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 01:17

Beirut: Syrian expats streamed to their embassy in Beirut Wednesday to vote in a controversial presidential election, as war raged at home and bombs killed more than 40 people in the city of Aleppo.

While the opposition and its Western backers have ridiculed the vote as a farce in a country at war, US President Barack Obama vowed to ramp up support for the rebels after months of setbacks.

With expats around the world voting in advance of the June 3 election, Beirut`s Yarzeh district was festooned with Syrian flags and portraits of President Bashar al-Assad, who is expected to cruise to victory.
An estimated three million Syrians live abroad, including peacetime residents and refugees, but only about 200,000 were able to vote Wednesday, at 43 embassies, according to officials in Damascus.

Pro-regime daily Al-Watan said that is "a relatively acceptable figure, if we bear in mind the fact that France, Germany and Belgium have banned Syrian citizens" from voting, along with the United Arab Emirates.

Syria`s foreign ministry says 40,000 citizens in Lebanon, which hosts more than a million refugees fleeing the violence, are on the electoral register.

Damascus has barred refugees who left Syria through unofficial crossings from taking part in the election.

By midday, all the entrances to the Lebanese capital were blocked, causing long tailbacks, as thousands of Syrians descended on the embassy, mostly by foot.
The army set up checkpoints around the embassy to head off any disturbances, with the country`s Syrian community sharply divided into pro- and anti-Assad camps.There was little sign of any opposition voters in the long queues outside the mission.

"The lion of the Arabs," and "With our soul, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you," read slogans on Assad`s portraits.

"Where are the `Friends of Syria`? If only they would come and see this picture" of thousands taking part in the election, said one young man, sitting on a bus waving the Syrian flag.

Others made the V-for-victory sign.

The war raging since March 2011 has killed more than 160,000 people and driven nearly half the population from their homes.

More casualties were added to the figure Wednesday, with news that air force raids on rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo had killed more than 40 people in 24 hours.

Barrel bombs killed 22 people in eastern districts of Aleppo Tuesday and another 21 Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
But state television repeatedly interrupted its programmes to broadcast live images of crowds of loyalists voting in Beirut.

Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdelkarim Ali said "these elections are a response to those who had wagered on the fall of Syria. It proves that the Syrian people are attached to their land, their country and their sovereignty."

The regime ensured no upsets by barring exiles from standing and with candidates needing endorsement by 35 MPs in the state-controlled parliament.

On Wednesday, President Obama pledged to boost US support for the rebels and to help them confront their extremist rivals.

"I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator," said Obama.

Syria`s National Coalition welcomed the announcement, with the bloc`s US representative, Najib Ghadbian, saying it is a partnership aimed at ending the humanitarian disaster and putting Syria on the path to "genuine democratic transition."

Assad`s re-election is not in doubt, as he is running against two little-known opponents, who are seen as token rivals.

Inside Syria, the conflict has left large swathes of territory under rebel control, allowing for voting only in regime-controlled areas.

Amid similar scenes in Amman and under tight security, Syrian voters lined up in their hundreds outside their embassy.

Around 30 anti-regime activists stood near the mission, chanting slogans and carrying a banner which read: "No to the killer`s re-election."

But Mohammad Ahmad, 32, from the rebel-held northern city of Raqa, said: "I came today to elect president Assad who deserves my vote. He proved to the world that Syria is strong under his leadership."

Jordan is home to some 600,000 Syrian refugees.

AFP

First Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 01:17

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