Syrians Vote on New Constitution, Activists Boycotting
Syrians are voting Sunday on the draft of a new constitution that would limit the presidency to two seven-year terms, beginning with this year. The new constitution also theoretically calls for the creation of a multi-party system.
Polls opened across the country at 7:00 a.m. Local time, and are scheduled to close 12 hours later. Some 14.6 million eligible voters have allegedly been asked to cast their ballots for or against the new constitution in more than 14,000 polling stations.
The document was drafted to quiet the critics of the government's brutal year-long violent campaign against civilians protesting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
But many are skeptical about whether the new constitution will hold any real validity, and numerous protesters said they were boycotting the vote.
Activist Mustafa Osso pointed out to reporters that in Syria, such laws are a sham: last year the Assad government revoked the official state of emergency in April, only to ratchet up the violence immediately thereafter.
Thus far on Sunday, violence was reported in the central city of Homs, where Assad forces have been using heavy artillery to besiege the city since February 4, particularly aiming at the Baba Amr district where many opposition forces have been centralized.
Two Western journalists were killed there last week -- including veteran American correspondent Marie Colvin -- and two others were seriously wounded when the house in which they were staying came under particularly heavy mortar and rocket fire by government troops. The two wounded reporters, and the bodies of their two dead colleagues have been trapped there for days, with the Syrian government, and reportedly at times also the Syrian Free Army, refusing to allow International Red Cross (ICRC) workers to come and get them out.
The humanitarian situation in that section of Homs is reportedly so bad, and so dangerous, that one activist told a reporter that whoever does not end up dying of the bombardments will probably ultimately die of starvation due to the siege.
Violence on Sunday also was reported in Idlib, where Assad forces allegedly appeared with tanks and shelled the city. The eastern province of Deir Az-Zour came under attack as well; another area in which opposition forces have been active.
At least two people were killed by mid-day Sunday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Both were murdered in the southern province of Dera'a, where the anti-government uprising began last March, as the Arab Spring movement swept the region.