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Syrian president gets second term

Syrian President Bashar Assad gets overwhelming support of his countrymen, scooping up 97.62 per cent of votes.
AP | By Albert Aji, Damascus
UPDATED ON MAY 29, 2007 04:25 PM IST

Syrian President Bashar Assad won overwhelming support of his countrymen, scooping up 97.62 per cent of votes in a nationwide referendum on his leadership in which he was the sole contestant.

The vote secured Assad another seven years in office. His re-election had been assured from the start, since he was the only candidate in the balloting.

Announcing the referendum results, Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdul-Majid said that 95.86 percent of the country's almost 12 million voters turned out at the polls in Sunday's presidential vote.

Only 19,635 voters said "No" to Assad's re-election, while some 253,000 ballots were considered invalid.

Victory celebrations in Syria had been going on ever since the Parliament, which is dominated by a pro-government Baathist coalition, unanimously nominated the 42-year-old leader on May 10 for another term. More celebrations and pro-Assad rallies were expected on Tuesday.

The Parliament was to convene a special session later on Tuesday to officially endorse Assad's re-election.

Assad, a British-educated ophthalmologist, became president shortly after the death of his father, President Hafez Assad, in 2000. In his first referendum, he received 97.29 per cent approval. Abdul-Majid said Assad would be sworn in before the July 17 end of his current presidential term. Dismissing reports about a Cabinet reshuffle, Abdul-Majid said the current government would stay on. Assad's re-election was "proof of our people's political maturity and an expression of their willingness to go on with the process of construction and modernization, as well as a confirmation of the principal values Syria has adopted under (Assad's) wise leadership," Abdul-Majid told a news conference. Since coming to power, Assad has led a campaign to modernize Syria, introducing new economic measures and freeing hundreds of political prisoners. But he also clamped down on pro-democracy activists.

Sunday's voting was boycotted by the country's tiny opposition which said Syrians should have a choice in who governs them. Critics of Assad's regime accuse him of clamping down on pro-democracy activists, rampant corruption and mass arrests, though many fear openly expressing dissent.

The regime is also under intense international scrutiny, accused of meddling in Iraq, supporting Palestinian militant groups and involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005. Under Assad's rule, Syrian troops were forced out of Lebanon following an outcry over Hariri's killing.

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