Syrian polls to proceed on time

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iol pic wld syria vote zobhi AFP Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi speaks to the press at the United Nations Offices in Geneva. Picture: FABRICE COFFRINI

 Damascus - Candidates for presidential elections in Syria this year will be able to submit their applications during the last 10 days of April, state media reported, quoting Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi.

The minister also insisted that the elections would proceed on time, despite a raging civil war that has killed more than 150 000 people.

“The door for candidacy will open in the last 10 days of this month,” state news agency SANA quoted Zohbi as saying in an interview with Al-Manar, the channel of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, late on Monday.

“The overwhelming majority of Syrians are pressing and calling for President Bashar al-Assad to continue to lead the country as president of the republic,” he said.

Zohbi insisted that the elections, due to be held before June, would proceed on schedule.

The elections “will be held on time... and we will not allow them to be delayed for any reason, whether security, military, political, internal or external,” he said.

Zohbi also denied there was any contradiction between staging the vote and efforts to hold peace talks, despite criticism by UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

The mediator said last month that holding elections would likely endanger peacemaking efforts that have so far resulted in two rounds of talks in Switzerland but no concrete steps forward.

“The presidential election does not contradict the contents of the Geneva statement,” Zohbi said, referring to a document produced after a first round of talks in Geneva in 2012.

The document called for a political transition in Syria but made no mention of the role of Assad, who the opposition insists must step aside.

“Any talk of a conflict is political, resulting from a failure to read the document,” Zohbi added.

The constitution adopted in 2012 for the first time opens the door for candidates to challenge President Bashar al-Assad in the election.

But a law adopted by parliament this year requires candidates to have lived in Syria for the past 10 years, thereby excluding the exiled Western- and Arab-backed opposition.

And it remains unclear how an election can be held in the middle of a war that has also displaced an estimated 40 percent of Syrians from their homes.

The conflict in Syria began in March 2011, with protests against Assad's regime.

After a government crackdown on the dissent, some of the opposition took up arms and the conflict spiralled into a bloody civil war. - Sapa-AFP

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