Envoy: If Syria's Assad seeks third term, opposition likely won't talk

March 14, 2014 at 10:41 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, March 14 (UPI) -- If Syrian President Bashar runs for re-election, opposition leaders likely will walk away from peace talks, a U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria said.

Assad, whose current term ends in July, has indicated he would seek re-election under a new constitution approved in 2012, and lawmakers have been modifying election laws in accordance with the new constitution, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

No date has been set for elections.

The new constitution permits multiple candidates and political parties. Critics however, said the 3-year civil war and Assad's grip on the security services and government agencies would assure his re-election, the Times said.

Representatives of the opposition seeking to oust Assad repeatedly said if an election were held while the fighting raged, it would be a sham, especially if Assad were on the ballot.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League envoy for Syria, expressed concern Thursday the planned elections likely would endanger the so-called Geneva peace process.

"If there is an election, then my suspicion is that the opposition ... will probably not be interested in talking to the government," said Brahimi, who is chief mediator in the talks in Switzerland.

A key goal of the negotiations is to name a transitional government to lead Syria until a new, democratic government could be elected. The opposition maintains that Assad can't be a part of the transitional process, which Syrian government negotiators reject.

Assad hasn't formally announced, but several Syrian government officials indicated he likely would seek a third term.

"President Assad is the real guarantee for the security and stability of Syria," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Thursday in an interview with China's state-run Xinhua News Agency.

This week marks the third anniversary of the Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011 with peaceful street protests that led to a government crackdown.

The United Nations estimated more than 100,000 people have been killed and an estimated 9 million others driven from their homes. In addition, more than 2.4 million refugees are registered elsewhere in the region, including 932,000 in Lebanon, 574,000 in Jordan, 613,000 in Turkey, 223,000 in Iraq and 134,000 in Egypt, The U.N. Refugee Agency said in a release.

In a report released Friday, the U.N. Refuge Agency said the Syria conflict has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and that four of 10 Syrians had been uprooted from their homes, making Syria "the world's leading country of forced displacement," the New York Times reported.

Half of the refugees registered in countries outside of Syria are children.

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