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Syria to hold referendum on new draft constitution

Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered a referendum for later this month on a new constitution that would allow political parties other than his ruling Baath Party, the centrepiece of reforms he has promised to ease the crisis, even as the Syrian military on Wednesday besieged rebellious areas.

world Updated: Feb 15, 2012 21:19 IST

Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered a referendum for later this month on a new constitution that would allow political parties other than his ruling Baath Party, the centrepiece of reforms he has promised to ease the crisis, even as the Syrian military on Wednesday besieged rebellious areas.

The opposition quickly rejected the move, saying that the regime was stalling and that Syrians in the uprising would accept nothing less than Assad's ouster. The referendum call also raises the question of how a nationwide vote could be held at a time when many areas see daily battles between Syrian troops and rebel soldiers.

Amendments to the constitution once were a key demand by the opposition at the start of Syria's uprising, when protesters first launched demonstrations calling for change.

But after 11 months of a fearsome crackdown on dissent that has left thousands dead and turned some cities into war zones, the opposition says Assad and his regime must go.

"The people in the street today have demands, and one of these demands is the departure of this regime," said Khalaf Dahowd, a member of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, an umbrella for several opposition groups in Syria and in exile.

Top Syrian ally Russia has presented Assad's promises of reform and dialogue as an alternative way to resolve Syria's bloodshed after Moscow and Beijing earlier this month vetoed a Western- and Arab-backed resolution at the UN Security Council aimed at pressuring Assad to step down.

The referendum, announced on Syrian state TV, was set to take place February 26. The current Syrian constitution enshrines Assad's Baath Party as the leader of the state.

But according to the new draft, obtained by The Associated Press, "the state's political system is based on political pluralism and power is practised democratically through voting."