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May 7, 2012 at 8:04 AM   |   Comments

Syrian polls open; some violence reported

DAMASCUS, Syria, May 7 (UPI) -- Polls opened in Syria Monday, with more than 7,000 candidates vying for 250 parliamentary seats. Activists reported sporadic violence in Daraa province.

Opposition leaders urged Syrians to boycott the elections, saying a vote for any candidate was tantamount to a vote to keep President Bashar Assad in power, CNN reported.

Opposition activists said general strikes and election boycotts were called in several locations in the provinces of Daraa and Hama.

Periodic violence was reported in Daraa province, where security forces opened fire and wounded a child, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. Gunfire was reported in Yadouda, where security units used heavy machinery to clear roads to move strikers, the network of opposition groups said.

The elections came after the adoption of a new constitution allowing political parties to compete with Assad's ruling Baath Party. The referendum on the constitution in February was roundly criticized by analysts and the opposition as a sham.

Bashar al-Haraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition coalition, told the BBC the elections were a "farce which can be added to the regime's masquerade."

Syrians began protesting against the Assad regime in March 2011, calling for reforms and increased political freedoms. Assad responded with a brutal crackdown against demonstrators.

The United Nations estimates at least 9,000 people have died in the conflict; one opposition organization said the toll was more than 11,000.


Putin sworn in as Russia's president

MOSCOW, May 7 (UPI) -- Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency Monday, saying it was his "life's meaning" to serve the country and its people.

"We are entering a new stage of national development. We want to live in a democratic country … in a successful Russia," Putin said.

"I consider it to be my life's meaning and duty to serve my fatherland and our people."

Police arrested 120 of 200 protesters who demonstrated Monday against Putin's return to the presidency, RIA Novosti reported.

Putin, with his right hand on the Russian Constitution, took the oath of office, saying, "I swear on the power invested in my as president of the Russian Federation to respect and protect the rights and freedom of its citizens."

This six-year term is Putin's third term as president. He was president for two consecutive four-year terms from 2000 to 2008. From 2008 until last year, Putin was prime minister under Dmitry Medvedev's regime.

Russia's constitution was amended to expand the presidential term to six years.

On Sunday, the most violent demonstration yet against Putin's return to the presidency injured dozens of people, police and witnesses said.


Obama invites Hollande to the White House

PARIS, May 7 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama invited French President-elect Francois Hollande to the White House and upcoming Group of Eight and NATO summits, the White House said.

In a phone call, Obama congratulated Hollande -- who won France's second and final round of voting Sunday with 51.7 percent of the vote -- saying he looked forward to working with him "on a range of shared economic and security challenges," the White House said.

Obama said he would welcome Hollande -- the first Socialist to win France's presidency since Francois Mitterrand in 1981 -- to Camp David in Maryland for the G8 Summit May 18-19 and to Chicago for the NATO summit May 20-21.

Obama also "proposed that they meet beforehand at the White House," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement Sunday night.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, acknowledging his defeat with 48.3 percent of the vote, announced he would again become "a French among the French."

"Francois Hollande is the president of the republic -- he must be respected," Sarkozy told supporters after calling Hollande to congratulate him. "I want to wish him good luck in the midst of these tests."

"We will bring back Europe on a track for jobs, growth and the future," Hollande said in a victory speech from the town of Tulle in central France where he was mayor.


Drone kills militant tied to Cole attack

SANAA, Yemen, May 7 (UPI) -- A senior al-Qaida militant on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole warship died in a CIA drone airstrike, Yemen said.

Fahd al-Quso, 37, was hit by a missile while in or leaving a vehicle in the south-central Shabwa province, Yemeni military officials said.

Another al-Qaida operative was killed in the Sunday drone attack, officials told The New York Times and CNN.

Al-Quso was the subject of a U.S. and Interpol international manhunt since 2003, after he was indicted by a New York federal grand jury on 50 counts of terrorism in the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole while it was docked in the Yemen port of Aden.

Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed in the suicide attack and 39 were injured.

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