Sunday, February 25, 2018

Syria says 89% of voters support new constitution

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Amid reports of fresh atrocities in the besieged city of Homs, the Syrian government said Monday that an overwhelming majority of voters — 89 percent — had approved a new constitution that is billed as President Bashar Assad's most serious concession yet in the nearly year-old uprising against his rule.

Opposition activists, backed by the Free Syrian Army guerrilla movement, rejected the results and vowed to continue their fight to end the Assad dynasty's four-decade hold on the country. They renewed their calls for foreign assistance such as weapons and "safe zones" along the borders, saying that the bloodshed of the past year renders moot any more regime promises of reform.

The results, however, bolstered Assad's support from China and Russia, the two nations that had vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution this month that called for new sanctions on Assad.

"The referendum has confirmed that the course for change is supported by the people," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"We hope that all sides in Syria work together and exert coordinated efforts to ease the tension as soon as possible," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news conference in Beijing, news agencies reported.

The likelihood of a peaceful resolution seemed to recede, however, as the Syrian army continued to shell Homs, and key Arab leaders called for sending weapons to beleaguered rebel forces.

An opposition activist, reached via an Internet hookup, reported that 64 men had been executed overnight after they fled Homs' Baba Amr neighborhood with their families. The activist said that when the families reached a security checkpoint, the men were loaded onto buses and driven away. Their bodies were found later. The whereabouts of the women and children were unknown, the activist said.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group reported that 144 people have been killed across the country. The group did not say whether all 144 died on Monday or were killed over the past few days.

Meanwhile, Saleh Dabbakeh, the spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, said in a phone interview that aid workers had entered the hard-hit city of Hama for the first time in 40 days, delivering food, blankets and other goods. He said the opening encouraged the group and that the group hopes to negotiate similar entry for convoys headed to other flash-point cities, such as Idlib and Homs.

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