Sunday, February 26, 2012

Syria votes while fighting and bombardments are continuing

 Voting in Damascus. (AP)

Update, Monday afternoon: Syrian Arab News Agency SANA: Minister of Interior Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar on Monday announced that 8,376,447 citizens voted in the referendum on the new draft constitution, which constitutes 57.4% of eligible voters, with 89.4% of voters approving it. In a press conference, al-Shaar said that 9% of the voters didn't approve of the new draft constitution, while 1.6% of the ballots were invalid.

Syrians were able to take part in a referendum on a new constitution on Sunday that could theoretically end five decades of one-party rule. Polls opened at 7:00 in the morning with more than 14 million people over the age of 18 eligible to vote at 13,835 polling stations. However it was unclear whether the ballot would be convincing. The opposition has called for a boycot and in many parts of the country fighting is going on, like in the Baba Amro district of Homs that was under assault for the 26the day in row. 
President Bashar al-Assad unveiled the proposed new national charter earlier this month in his latest reform pledge. The charter, written by a committee of 29 people appointed by Assad, drops Article 8 in the existing charter which stipulates that the Baath party is "the head of state and society". It thereby theoretically opens the way to a multi-party system (although parties formed along religious lines remain banned). However the president retains broad powers under the new charter. He would still name the prime minister and government and could, in some cases, veto legislation.Assad has promised to hold parliamentary elections within 90 days if voters approve the new constitution.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a military bombardment of opposition districts in Homs, now in its fourth week, had killed nine civilians, while rebel fighters had killed four soldiers in clashes in the city.
Meanwhile some 31 people were killed on Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said new bombardments of opposition districts in Homs had killed nine civilians, while rebel fighters had killed four soldiers in clashes in the city. The British-based Observatory said eight civilians and 10 members of the security forces were killed in violence elsewhere in Syria.

American correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, who were killed in the bombardment of Homs last week, and two journalists who got wounded, are still in Homs despite Red Cross efforts to extricate them. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday it was still unable to evacuate distressed civilians from Baba Amro. After a day of talks with Syrian authorities and opposition fighters, it said there were "no concrete results."

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