Syria referendum proceeds amid military onslaught

Activists call for boycott, protests against referendum on new constitution which opposition claims is a ploy by Assad.

By REUTERS
February 26, 2012 08:54
2 minute read.
A Syrian tank outside Homs.

Syria tank Homs 300 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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BEIRUT - Explosions shook several embattled Syrian cities on Sunday before polls opened for a vote on a new constitution that could keep President Bashar Assad in power until 2028.

Human rights campaigners reported blasts in Homs, Hama, Deir al-Zor, Deraa and some smaller towns caught up in an almost year-long uprising against four decades of Assad family rule.

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Syrian television said voting had begun in the referendum on a constitution which Assad says will lead to a multi-party parliamentary election in three months, but which his opponents see as a sick joke given the violence convulsing the country.

"No one is going to vote," said activist Omar on Saturday from the rebel-held Baba Amro district of Homs, which Assad's forces have bombarded and besieged for more than three weeks.

"This was a constitution made to Bashar's tastes and meanwhile we are getting shelled and killed," he said. "More than 40 people were killed today and you want us to vote?"

The security forces killed at least 100 people, including six women and 10 children, across Syria on Saturday, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said in a statement.

The Syrian government, backed by Russia, China and Iran, and undeterred by Western and Arab pressure to halt the carnage, says it is fighting foreign-backed "armed terrorist groups".

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Its onslaught on parts of Homs has created harrowing conditions for civilians and rebels.

A video posted by activists on YouTube showed Mohammad al-Mohammad, a doctor at a makeshift clinic in Baba Amro, holding a 15-year-old boy hit in the neck by shrapnel and spitting blood.

"It is late at night and Baba Amro is still being bombarded. We can do nothing for this boy," said the doctor, who has also been treating Western journalists wounded in the city.

American correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in the bombardment of Homs last week and other Western journalists in the city were wounded. The group is still trapped there despite Red Cross efforts to extract them.
Red Cross unable to continue evacuation

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said 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".

"We continue our negotiations, hoping that tomorrow (Sunday) we will be able to enter Baba Amro to carry out our life-saving operations," spokesman Hisham Hassan said.

Conditions were nightmarish for some of those trapped by the fighting.

"We have hundreds of wounded people crammed into houses. People die from blood loss. We just aren't capable of treating everyone," activist Nader Husseini said via Skype.

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