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World

Assad dismisses critics as Syria votes to extend his grip on power

  • The United States and the European Union said Tuesday the election was "neither free nor fair," and Syria's fragmented opposition has called it a "farce".
26 May 2021

DAMASCUS: President Bashar al-Assad dismissed criticism of Syria's presidential election Wednesday as voters flocked to the polls in government-held areas despite Western accusations it was neither "free nor fair".

"Your opinions have zero value," Assad said, after voting with his British-born wife Asma in the Damascus suburb of Douma, a key rebel stronghold until its recapture by government forces three years ago.

The United States and the European Union said Tuesday the election was "neither free nor fair," and Syria's fragmented opposition has called it a "farce".

But they will watch powerless as Assad prepares to renew his grip on power.

Few doubt Assad will trounce his two virtually unknown challengers to win a fourth term, in a war-battered country mired in economic crisis.

Huge election posters glorifying the president have mushroomed across the two-thirds of the country under his control.

The controversial vote is the second election since the start of a decade-long civil war that has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced half the pre-war population.

With opponents abroad barred from standing and no voting in the swathes of territory outside government control, Assad is expected to win by a landslide.

State television showed long queues forming outside polling stations after voting opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT). Security was tight.

Hundreds of students clamoured to vote outside Damascus University.

"I came to vote for Bashar al-Assad because he is the only man who withstood 10 years of war," said 26-year-old Kinan al-Khatib.

Around him, students chanted the slogan used to express support for strongmen across the Arab world: "With our blood and with our souls, we sacrifice our lives for you, Bashar."