02/16/2012, 00.00
SYRIA
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Assad harshly criticised for his proposed referendum on a new constitution

The draft would strip the Baa'th party of its monopoly over power and allow for multi-party elections. The president would be limited to two seven-year terms. Ninety days after the 26 February referendum, Syrians would go to the poll. Russia backs the move; the US mocks it. A Chinese envoy is expected in Damascus tomorrow.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) - President Bashar Assad's proposal to hold a referendum on a new constitution was met with criticism and derision from the United States and the Syrian National Council (SNC), which is acting like a would-be government-in-exile.

Assad said that a referendum on a new draft constitution would be held on 26 February. Syrian officials said that the draft charter would drop the article giving the ruling Baath Party unique status as the "leader of state and society", something that it has enjoyed for the past 50 years.

Syria would allow multi-party elections. However, new political parties could not be based on religious, professional or regional bases, de facto preventing the Muslim Brotherhood and Kurdish groups from establishing parties.

The president could hold office only for a maximum of two seven-year terms. Mr Assad has been in power since 2000 after succeeding his late father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled from 1970 to 2000.

Members of the national committee tasked with drafting the new constitution said they had sought to write a document that "turns Syria into an example to follow in terms of public freedoms and political plurality" and "guarantees the dignity of the Syrian citizen and secures his basic rights".

Once the referendum has taken place, elections would be held within 90 days.

When the Arab spring broke out last year, in March in Syria's case, the opposition wanted a new political dispensation and a new constitution. However, months of turmoil and unrest have radicalised some of the anti-Assad forces who not only want reform but also the overthrow of the president.

According to the Syrian National Council, the proposed new constitution is just a smokescreen to "divert attention away from the crimes against humanity happening in Syria".

Critics of Assad's proposal say he is deaf on the matter of the army and security forces, which are real backbone of the regime.

For the United States, the proposed referendum is "laughable" and "makes a mockery of the Syrian revolution."

Most of the international community would like to see a 'Libyan' solution with Western intervention. The SNC and the Free Syrian Army, which is made up of deserters and foreign experts, are in favour of such a move as well.

For its part, the Arab League would like to see United Nations peacekeepers in Syria, and is planning a motion against the Syrian government in the General Assembly.

Only Russia and China continue to back Assad and oppose military intervention.

Moscow expressed its support for the referendum and is against any move that would remove Assad from power.

Beijing instead is sending Deputy Foreign Minister Zhai Jun for talks in Damascus.  An editorial in the People's Daily two days ago warned against foreign intervention, saying it would send shockwaves across the Middle East and poorly test an already weak global economy.

In Syria itself, fighting between Syrian government forces and the armed opposition continues with each side blaming the other for civilian casualties and damages.

Yesterday, an explosion hit a pipeline, one of two in the country. It carries crude oil to the Homs refinery (picture). Activists said government artillery fire hit the facility, either deliberately or by mistake. Syria's government news agency blamed "terrorist groups" instead for the incident.

The pipeline also supplies fuel to Damascus.

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See also
Damascus announces law to end one party system
25/07/2011
First democratic elections in Syria after 50 years of Baa'th party hegemony
07/05/2012
Syria’s uprising: violence will not stop a people seeking freedom and dignity
03/08/2011
Syria's new constitution comes into effect amid bombing and massacre claims
28/02/2012
Assad overwhelmingly wins another term of office in pseudo-referendum
29/05/2007


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