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Syria sets date for referendum on draft constitution

Read President Assad’s rambling statement on the future of the country. Plus, rare non-government images from inside Syria.

The city of Idlib yesterday.
The city of Idlib yesterday.
Image: Anonymous/AP/Press Association Images

SYRIA’S PRESIDENT BASHAR Assad has said a referendum will be held on the country’s new draft constitution on 26 February.

As part of reforms promised since anti-government protests began last March, a National Committee was formed to draft a new constitution.

The President said he received the first copy on Sunday and released the date – with just 11 days notice – of the referendum this morning. However, there was no mention of any further democratic elections on the official news agency SANA’s website.

Yesterday, the foreign ministry in Russia said that the adoption of the constitution will pave the way for free elections. Instead, in the rambling statement, Assad said:

When the new constitution is approved, Syria will have passed the most important stage of laying down the constitutional and legal structure through the reforms and laws that have already been issued to take the country to a new era in cooperation with all spectrums of the Syrian people to achieve what we all aspire for in terms of developing our country to draw a brilliant future for next generations.”

Although the new draft has reportedly left out a clause that says the ruling Baath Party is the “leader of the nation and society”, opponents are not convinced.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Syria there have been reports of a diesel pipeline blast in Homs in the early hours. Reuters reports that Syrian government forces continued their attacks on the central city early today.

There have also been reports of firings, armoured vehicles and anti-aircraft guns in Hama. The Local Coordination Committee has said that the city is “entirely sieged”, according to The Guardian.

As international powers decide on how to deal with the escalating violence in Syria, the US has said it is closely monitoring the country’s stockpiles of chemical arms and portable anti-aircraft missiles.

Back on the diplomatic side, France has said it will lead another push to finalise a UN Security Council resolution on stopping violence in Syria. The member states have yet to reach agreement on a resolution as Russia and China use their veto powers.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that Thursday’s UN General Assembly vote could be significant. He also reiterated France’s hopes that the council will create “humanitarian corridors” to allow aid groups reach areas in disastrous humanitarian conditions. The country has just released a €1 million emergency fund for aid agencies looking to help Syrian people.

He said some people are facing “absolutely scandalous massacres”. Echoing US Secretary of State’s words last week, Juppe added that the international community has been “paralysed” by the vetoes of China and Russia.

The focus is now on Russia to “give in”, he told French radio.

More than 5,400 people have been killed since the uprising began in March last year as part of the wider Arab Spring movement, the UN has said. Another 18,000 are currently being held in detention and thousands more are reported missing. At least 25,000 citizens have fled the country, while another 70,000 have been displaced within Syria.

Syria sets date for referendum on draft constitution
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