Syrian polls open; some violence reported

May 7, 2012 at 7:19 AM
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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.

"I see all the government moves at the moment as gutless and pointless," a man refusing to vote and identifying himself as Mammon told CNN. "How can we say that we are going to be happy about this election when this guy is killing the people?"

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.

World leaders have condemned the violence.

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.

Reports of violence and casualties inside Syria cannot be independently verified because of the government's restrictions on access by most of the international media.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited a refugee camp Sunday along the Turkey-Syria border and promised to allow more than 23,000 Syrians who fled to Turkish camps to stay until they voluntarily choose to return home, CNN said.

Erdogan called on Assad's supporters in Syria to reconsider, saying Turkey would keep up its support for peace efforts proffered by the United Nations, the Arab League and others.

"We have one concern: That is, the bloodshed stop immediately, the tears end, the Syrian people's demand be met. We consider the Syrian people to be separate from the regime," Erdogan said

Reports of attacks and fighting have been made since a cease-fire went into effect April 12, raising doubts about whether it can take hold. Dozens of United Nations observers are in Syria, with about 300 expected by the end of the May, to monitor the cease-fire and a six-point peace plan.

Under the plan, the government is to allow humanitarian aid groups access to citizens, release detainees, begin a political dialogue and withdraw troops from city centers.

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