22 Apr 2014

Syria presidential vote criticised

1:24 pm on 22 April 2014

Syria is to hold a presidential election in June, in a move the UN said risked undermining efforts to achieve a political solution to the three-year-old civil war.

The parliamentary speaker announced the 3 June poll on state television days after President Bashar al-Assad said the civil war was turning in his favour.

Western and Gulf Arab countries that back Mr Assad's opponents have called plans for an election a parody of democracy and said it would wreck efforts to negotiate a peace settlement.

Bombings and gun battles continue to take a toll in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.

Bombings and gun battles continue to take a toll in Aleppo and other Syrian cities. Photo: AFP

United Nations-backed talks in Geneva collapsed in February with both sides far from agreement - not least over the question of whether Mr Assad should go, Reuters reports.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said such elections are incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Geneva communique, referring to a June 2012 agreement on seeking a political transition in Syria.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "The Syrian regime under the Assads has never held a credible, free and fair election and has taken legal and administrative steps to ensure that this vote will not be fair."

The three-year-old rebellion against Mr Assad has killed more than 150,000 people, forced millions to flee their homes and caused the government to lose control over swathes of territory.

Gun battles, shelling and air strikes continue daily and the weekly death toll from the conflict regularly exceeds 1000.

The US State Department said on Monday it had indications a toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used in the Syrian town of Kfar Zeita this month.

Announcing the election, parliamentary speaker Mohamed Jihad al-Laham said requests for nomination would be accepted until 1 May. Parliament set residency rules for presidential candidates in March, a move that would bar many of Mr Assad's foes who live in exile.

Mr Assad said last week the conflict had reached a "turning point" because of military gains against the rebels.