Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad Reuters

Polls opened in areas of war-torn Syria controlled by President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday, for a parliamentary vote dismissed by regime opponents as illegitimate.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. in areas under government control - about a third of the country's territory where about 60% of the population lives - and will remain open for 12 hours unless the electoral commission decides to extend the deadline "because of crowds."

The vote coincides with the beginning of a second round of UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the five-year conflict, with the future of Assad's rule a key sticking point.

The election is expected to see his Baath party maintain control over parliament, although several parties are participating.

The controversial polls come at a tense time as violence has surged in recent days, threatening a fragile six-week ceasefire, and as UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura tries again to reach a consensus on ending the war in Geneva.

The talks are aimed at agreeing a roadmap to peace, including forming a transitional government followed by general elections, to end a conflict that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced half of the country's population.

The vote is the second ballot since the beginning of the war in 2011, and 11,341 candidates initially submitted papers to run for the 250 seats in parliament.

Some 3,500 candidates remain in the race, after the rest withdrew "saying they had no chance of winning," Hisham al-Shaar, the head of the Supreme Judicial Elections Committee, told reporters.

Walls across the capital Damascus were covered with candidate posters, and from the top of one of the city's tallest buildings a banner of the Baath party - which has controlled the country for more than half a century - proclaimed: "The elections of resistance."

AFP contributed to this report.

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