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  Syrians go to polls in govt-held areas

Syrians go to polls in govt-held areas

AFP
Published : Apr 14, 2016, 6:17 am IST
Updated : Apr 14, 2016, 6:17 am IST

Peace talks kick off amid surge in violence

Peace talks kick off amid surge in violence

Some Syrians voted enthusiastically on Wednesday in a parliamentary election held in areas controlled by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but others dismissed the vote as a sham.

 

Mr Assad pressed ahead with the vote despite the start on Wednesday of another round of UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the devastating five-year conflict, with a political transition and the Syrian leader’s future key sticking points.

Voters could cast ballots at some 7,200 polling stations opened in government-held areas — around a third of the country’s territory where about 60 per cent of the population lives.

They were due to close at 7 pm after 12 hours of voting, unless the electoral commission decides to extend the deadline.

Mr Assad’s Baath party, which has controlled the country for more than half a century, is expected to extend its dominance of Parliament, although several parties are participating in the polls.

 

Samer Issa, a taxi driver, said he had “fulfilled his national duty” by casting his vote.

“Now, it’s up to the winners to fulfil their promises,” the 58-year-old added.

The presidency published photos of a smiling Mr Assad and his wife Asma casting their ballots in Damascus.

“We have been at war for five years but terrorism has failed to reach its main goal, which is to destroy Syria’s social structure and identity as safeguarded in the Constitution,” Mr Assad said.

In the ancient city of Palmyra, where Russian-backed Syrian forces drove out the ISIS jihadist group less than three weeks ago, four polling stations opened.

“I wasn’t afraid to come vote today,” one newly returned resident said.

 

In March, the domestic Opposition tolerated by the regime called for a widespread boycott, accusing the government of using the vote to gain leverage in the peace talks. The High Negotiations Committee, the main Opposition body involved in the negotiations, has branded the election “illegitimate”.

In Syria’s divided second city Aleppo, polling stations only opened in western government-held districts. Negotiations in Geneva to end the civil war was overshadowed by a surge of violence that threatened a fragile truce.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura met with Mr Assad’s key allies Tehran and Moscow ahead of a sit-down with the Opposition on Wednesday afternoon and regime representatives later in the week.

 

A surge in violence in recent days has however threatened a landmark ceasefire agreed in February and piled more pressure on these talks, which follow fruitless attempts in previous years to negotiate an end to the bloodshed.

Location: Syria, Damascus