News / Middle East

Syrian President Sets February 26 Constitutional Referendum

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered a constitutional referendum later this month that he says would end nearly five decades of single-party rule, as government troops continued to assault rebellious areas nationwide.

If approved, the February 26 ballot would usher in a new charter that dilutes the ruling Ba'ath party's status as "the leader of the state and society." State media said Wednesday the draft also permits a president to be elected to two seven-year terms, setting a limit for the first time in decades.

Assad's late father, Hafez al-Assad, ruled for 29 years before his death in 2000, when his son succeeded him. The Ba'ath party took power in 1963.

Russia welcomed the proposed referendum, but Syrian opposition groups quickly rejected it, saying the government was stalling for time and that the Syrian people would accept nothing less than Assad's ouster. White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the referendum as "laughable," saying it "makes a mockery" of the Syrian uprising.

Hama under attack

Meanwhile, activists said Syrian troops mounted a new offensive in Hama, the country's fourth largest city. Rights groups said government forces were firing at residential neighborhoods with anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles.

In Homs, 40 kilometers to the south, witnesses said the government's nearly two-week assault continued, and an explosion hit an oil pipeline near the city's rebel-held Sunni Muslim district of Baba Amr.

Watch related video of oil pipeline explosion in Baba Amr

In the capital, Damascus, elite troops searched houses and made arrests. Syrian officials blame "armed terrorists" for the 11-month uprising against President Assad's autocratic rule.

U.N. resolution

Also Wednesday, France said it is negotiating a new United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria with Russia, Assad's ally and main arms supplier. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe also said Paris wants to create "humanitarian corridors" to allow aid groups access to areas hit by the deadly crackdown. France first proposed the idea in November.

Arab diplomats have circulated a text to U.N. General Assembly members calling on Syria to stop the crackdown and accusing the government of rights violations. The non-binding resolution is likely to receive broad support at a vote on Thursday.

Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this month, blocking the body from endorsing a Western- and Arab-backed plan for President Assad to step aside as a way of ending the crisis.

China's Position

U.S. officials say President Barack Obama expressed disappointment with China's veto at a meeting with visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. Both China and Russia have said the Security Council must not take sides in a domestic conflict or provide a pretext for foreign military intervention in Syria.

Rights groups say more than 6,000 people have been killed since pro-Assad forces began cracking down on anti-government protesters last year. The United Nations stopped updating the death toll in January, saying it was too difficult to obtain information.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs