02/28/2012, 00.00
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Syria's new constitution comes into effect amid bombing and massacre claims

Approved by 89.4 per cent of voters, the new basic charter opens the country to a multiparty system. However, it allows Assad to remain president until 2028. Wounded photojournalist Paul Conroy and reporter Edith Bouvier have left Homs. In the city, the bodies of 68 people were found, showing gunshot and knife wounds.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Syria's new constitution came into effect after President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday issued decree No. 94 on the Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic. The Interior Ministry announced that the new fundamental charter was approved by 89.4 per cent of those who voted; however, only 57.4 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot.

Under the new constitution, the Baa'th party's monopoly is abolished allowing more parties to form. New elections are set to take place in three months time. The presidency is now limited to two terms, but will come into force only at the end of Assad's current seven-year term (in 2014) and is not retroactive. This means that Assad (who came to power in 2000) could rule until 2028.

As the government celebrates this milestone, the opposition has released more reports about clashes and bombing by the Syrian air force for a total of 128 dead. In Homs, 68 people were found dead in a "massacre" with men, women and children showing signs of gunfire but also knife wounds.

According to some reports from the "martyr" city, British photojournalist Paul Conroye and French reporter Edith Bouvier, who were wounded a few days ago, were evacuated to Lebanon.

The International Committee of the Red Cross also announced that its workers have reached Hama with help for 12,000 people. It had been prevented from doing so since 17 January.

At the international level, European nations have indicated their intention to put more pressures on Damascus through tougher sanctions. Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said his government is in favour of providing weapons to the rebels. "We should do whatever necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves," he said during an official visit to Norway.

By contrast, Russia and China continue to oppose any international action against Assad.

In a newspaper article, the Russian president has accused the West of "lacking the patience to work out an adjusted and balanced" solution, calling on the opposition to do what is asked of the Syrian armed forces.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei slammed the United States, urging the Americans to look at the situation in Iraq, ten years after their intervention. (PD)

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