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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid