May 25, 2022

Syrian president Assad votes in former rebel town, site of chemical attack, Middle East News & Top Stories

AMMAN (REUTERS) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad voted on Wednesday (May 26) in an election certain to extend his rule over a country ruined by war, casting his ballot in an ex-rebel bastion where a suspected chemical weapons attack in 2018 prompted Western air strikes.

The government says the election shows Syria is functioning normally despite the decade-old conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million people – about half the population – from their homes.

“Syria is not what they were trying to market, one city against the other and sect against the other or civil war. Today we are proving from Douma that the Syrian people are one,” President Assad said after voting in the former insurgent stronghold.

However, in the southern city of Deraa, cradle of the uprising against Mr Assad in 2011 and an opposition redoubt until rebels there surrendered three years ago, local leaders called for a strike.

The election went ahead despite a United Nations-led peace process that had called for voting under international supervision that would help pave the way for a new constitution and a political settlement.

Dismissed as fraudulent by his enemies, Wednesday’s vote is set to deliver Mr Assad seven more years in power and lengthen his family’s rule to nearly six decades. His father Hafez al-Assad led Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000.

The opposition boycotted the vote and said Mr Assad’s presidential rivals were deliberately low-key: former deputy cabinet minister Abdallah Saloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, head of a small, officially sanctioned opposition party.

Addressing his critics, Mr Assad said Syrians had made their feelings clear by coming out in large numbers. “The value of your opinions is zero,” he said.

The higher judicial committee said it would keep polls open until midnight due to high turnout.

At Damascus University’s Faculty of Arts, hundreds of students lined up to vote, with several buses parked outside.

“With our blood and soul we sacrifice our lives for you Bashar,” groups of them chanted before the polls opened, in scenes repeated across the 70 per cent of Syria now under government control.

“We came to elect President Bashar al-Assad… Without him Syria would not be Syria,” said Amal, a nursing student, who declined to give a second name for fear of reprisals.

Officials said privately that authorities had organised large rallies in recent days to encourage voting, and the security apparatus that underpins Mr Assad’s Alawite minority-dominated rule had instructed state employees to vote.

“We have been told we have to go to the polls or bear responsibility for not voting,” said Jafaar, a government employee in Latakia who gave his first name only, also fearing reprisals.

Douma, where Mr Assad voted, is a Sunni Muslim town in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

It was long a focus of defiance against Mr Assad’s rule until it was retaken after years of siege and bombing that killed thousands of civilians.

A suspected chemical attack in 2018 killed at least 50 civilians, one of several – mainly in the Ghouta area – that left hundreds dead. The United States, France and Britain responded with air strikes on suspected chemical weapons sites.

“Assad wants to send a message that Douma, one of the first areas that fell out of his control, is today secure and safe to cover up the election farce,” said Mr Wael Alwan, a researcher from Douma who now works at Istanbul’s Syrian Jusoor think-tank.

Sulaiman, a former militiaman who battled the rebels in Ghouta when they threatened Mr Assad’s hold over Damascus early in the conflict, described Mr Assad’s vote as “a final declaration of victory” against Islamist militants.

In parts of Deraa in the far south, local figures called for a general strike to vent their opposition to the election.

Former rebels in the area said there were several incidents of gunfire against vehicles carrying ballot boxes, and shops in many towns were closed.

“All people reject the rule of the son of Hafez,” read graffiti scribbled across several towns in the south, the last part of the country to fall to Mr Assad under Russian-brokered agreements, where former rebels still resist his rule.

There was no voting in the northwestern Idlib region, the last existing rebel enclave where at least three million of those who fled Mr Assad’s bombing campaign are sheltering, people took to the streets to denounce the election “theatre”.

“It’s a day of anger, let’s participate and raise our voices in the squares of freedom to announce our rejection of the criminal Assad and his elections,” said one of the posters hung in a rebel-held town along the border with Turkey.

In the northeast, where US-backed Kurdish-led forces administer an autonomous oil-rich region, officials closed border crossings with government-held areas to prevent people from heading to polling stations.

They said the election was a setback to reconciliation with a Kurdish minority that has faced decades of discrimination from one-party rule and Arab nationalist ideology.

in World
Related Posts

Merkel’s G-7 excursion unsettled by Covid-19 outbreak at hotel, Europe News & Top Stories

June 10, 2021

June 10, 2021

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – A Covid-19 outbreak in one of the Group of Seven (G-7) summit hotels set off alarm bells...

MacKenzie Scott announces new philanthropy gifts of US$2.7 billion, United States News & Top Stories

June 15, 2021

June 15, 2021

NEW YORK (AFP) – MacKenzie Scott, one of the world’s wealthiest women, announced on Tuesday (June 15) a new round...

Regeneron Covid-19 therapy cuts deaths among hospitalised patients who lack antibodies: Study, World News & Top Stories

June 16, 2021

June 16, 2021

LONDON (REUTERS) – Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’s Covid-19 antibody cocktail reduces deaths in hospitalised patients who have not mounted their own antibody...

Car bomb explosion at Colombia military base injures 36, World News & Top Stories

June 16, 2021

June 16, 2021

BOGOTA (REUTERS) – A car bomb explosion at a military base in the Colombian border city of Cucuta injured 36...

Dutch say Russian jets buzzed warship in Black Sea, Europe News & Top Stories

June 29, 2021

June 29, 2021

THE HAGUE (AFP) – The Netherlands on Tuesday (June 29) accused Russian fighter jets of “aggressive” behaviour in an encounter...

Coronavirus: London’s Heathrow airport to open separate terminal for high-risk arrivals, Europe News & Top Stories

May 21, 2021

May 21, 2021

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – London Heathrow airport will devote a terminal to arrivals from countries with high levels of Covid-19 infection...

Aspirin does not improve survival in Covid-19 patients: UK study, Europe News & Top Stories

June 8, 2021

June 8, 2021

LONDON (REUTERS) – Aspirin does not improve the chances of survival in severely ill Covid-19 patients, early results from one...

British minister in France for talks on fishing row, Europe News & Top Stories

November 4, 2021

November 4, 2021

PARIS (AFP) – Britain’s Brexit minister is due in Paris Thursday (Nov 4) for talks on the fishing rights crisis...

Ex-police officer Derek Chauvin sentenced to over 22 years in jail for George Floyd murder, United States News & Top Stories

June 25, 2021

June 25, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (REUTERS) – A Minnesota judge sentenced former police officer Derek Chauvin to 22 and a half years in prison...

Far from home? Spider-Man drops in at the papal audience, World News & Top Stories

June 23, 2021

June 23, 2021

VATICAN CITY (REUTERS) – A different type of participant dropped in on Pope Francis’ general audience at the Vatican on...

Against expectations, US south-western summers are getting even drier, United States News & Top Stories

June 23, 2021

June 23, 2021

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – The US South-west, already the driest region in the United States, has become even drier since...

Brits in EU denied work, benefits after Brexit: Home Secretary, Europe News & Top Stories

June 23, 2021

June 23, 2021

LONDON (AFP) – Some British people living in the European Union are having difficulties accessing benefits, services and jobs, Home...

Biden sends duelling messages on Afghanistan, United States News & Top Stories

July 3, 2021

July 3, 2021

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – To listen to the White House and Pentagon, the exit of the last US combat troops from...

UK expert warns of third Covid-19 wave as another 3,383 cases reported, Europe News & Top Stories

May 31, 2021

May 31, 2021

LONDON (XINHUA) – A British government advisory scientist warned on Monday (May 31) that Britain could be in early stages...

Engineer found structural damage years before Miami Surfside building collapsed, United States News & Top Stories

June 26, 2021

June 26, 2021

SURFSIDE (REUTERS) – An engineer found evidence of major structural damage beneath the pool deck and “concrete deterioration” in the...