Syria's Assad calls May election

Syrians protest against the Assad regime. [Reuters]
PHOTO

Syrians protest against the Assad regime. [Reuters]

Last Updated: Wed, 14 Mar 2012 06:39:00 +1100

Syria's embattled president Bashar al-Assad has issued a decree setting May 7 as the date for parliamentary elections that were delayed last year, the state news agency SANA reports.

The vote is part of a raft of reforms announced by Mr Assad in a bid to calm a year-long uprising against his regime that began with democracy protests.

Mr Assad's announcement comes as peace envoy Kofi Annan said he was awaiting a response from the Syrian leader on "concrete proposals" which he had submitted to him in two rounds of talks in Damascus at the weekend.

"I am expecting to hear from Syrian authorities today (Tuesday) since I left some concrete proposals for them to consider," the UN-Arab League envoy told reporters in Ankara after a meeting with the Syrian opposition.

"Once I receive their answer we will know how to react."

The elections would be the third time a legislative vote has taken place in Syria since Mr Assad came to power in 2000.

The last parliamentary poll in 2007 saw the National Progressive Front - a coalition led by Mr Assad's Baath Party - seize, as expected, the majority of the 250 seats in the assembly.

The May 7 vote was originally set to take place in September but was delayed to allow Mr Assad time to carry out reforms in the face of the revolt threatening his regime.

The United States has labelled the plan as "ridiculous".

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says to hold parliamentary elections "in the middle of the kind of violence that we've seen across the country, it's ridiculous"

Borders mined

Despite intense international pressure to end the ongoing violence in Syria and a growing clamour for foreign intervention, Mr Assad's regime has pushed on with its brutal crackdown on a revolt that has killed more than 8,500 people, the majority civilians, according to activists.

In the latest development, Human Rights Watch says the Syrian regime has planted landmines near its borders with Lebanon and Turkey, along routes used by refugees fleeing the country.

"We released today pictures and even footage of some of these anti-personnel land mines that have been put under a lot of these access roads being used by the refugees," the deputy director of the group's Middle East division, Nadim Houry, told the ABC's 7.30.

"We've also interviewed some of the wounded from these mines in Lebanon and in Turkey.

"Really, these land mines are not just a threat today to the civilians fleeing, but they're also a threat to Syrians in the future as we've seen in so many conflict countries.

"We're really calling on the Syrian army to stop laying those mines and to remove those it has already laid."

Mr Houry said the latest landmine casualty was on March 5, when a young Syrian man crossing back into Syria from Turkey stepped on a mine and lost his right leg.

Massacre 'hysteria'

But Mr Assad's regime has launched a counter-offensive against what it says are lies by foreign media groups hell-bent on serving the propaganda interests of gangs terrorising Syria.

Anti-regime activists on Monday posted online videos showing the bodies of dozens of women and children they said were massacred by regime forces in Karm el-Zaytoun district of the flashpoint city of Homs, in central Syria.

Foreign news broadcasters beamed grisly images of the bodies of 26 children and 21 women, some with their throats slit and others bearing stab wounds, around the world, as the opposition pushed for foreign military intervention in Syria.

Syrian state television quickly responded with counter-claims that Sunday's killings were carried out by "armed terrorist gangs" out to grab the propaganda spotlight and discredit Mr Assad's regime internationally.

"We are used to them committing more crimes before meetings of the UN Security Council," it said, while denouncing "hysteria" in the foreign media over events in Syria.

State television ran its own version of the massacre, showing bodies it said were filmed in Karm el-Zaytoun.

"The terrorists committed these crimes to satisfy their thirst for blood," it charged in comments broadcast throughout the day.

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