Assad votes in Syria referendum
Assad votes in Syria referendumReuters

The Syrian government announced Monday voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution giving President Bashar al-Assad 14 more years in power as loyalist forces continued to kill protesters.

Some 40 people fell under government gunfire Sunday during the so-called “referendum” on the new constitution that purports to create a multi-party system and limits the presidency to two seven-year terms.

According to Interior Minister Mohammed al-Sha'ar, more than half (57.4 percent) of the nearly 8.4 eligible voters in Syria turned out to vote on the document, and of those, nearly 90 percent voted in favor of the new constitution.

But activists who boycotted the vote are calling it a sham, as are Western governments. China and Russia, both of whom have consistently protected Syria against censure in the United Nations Security Council, welcomed the news of the referendum.

At least 10 people died Monday in the heavy shelling by government forces on the central city of Homs, under attack since February 4.

Three reporters died in February, including veteran American correspondent Marie Colvin. Two other journalists were seriously wounded and remain trapped in the Baba Amr district of Homs, along with the decomposing bodies of their dead colleagues. So far, rescue workers have been unable to evacuate them due to the dangerous conditions.

The United Nations has estimated that at least 6,400 civilians and another 1,680 Syrian Army defectors have died in the uprising, now a year old, since it began in March 2011 with the advent of the Arab Spring that swept the region.