The Deadly Reality Of Syria’s Referendum Day

February 26th, 20129:15 pm @


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6:59pm UK, Sunday February 26, 2012

Stuart Ramsay, chief correspondent

The reality of Referendum Day in Syria is that more people are dying at the hands of the government’s security forces as they continue to attack towns across the country.

As President Bashar al Assad and his wife voted in Damascus in a referendum on changes to the constitution, reports said more civilians had been killed in Homs.

Anti-government protesters said the military were once again shelling the city, and the casualty count was rising.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has again spoken out against the Syrian government, calling the referendum “a cynical ploy”.

Bashar Assad casts his ballot next to his wife Asma

Bashar al Assad casts his ballot next to his wife Asma in Damascus

“It’s a phony referendum, and it is going to be used by Assad to justify what he’s doing to other Syrian citizens,” she said in an interview with CBS News.

Her sentiments were echoed by the German foreign minister, who described the vote as a sham.

“The referendum in Syria is nothing more than a farce,” Guido Westerwelle said.

“Sham votes cannot be a contribution to a resolution of the crisis. Assad must finally end the violence and clear the way for a political transition.”

The latest eyewitness pictures from Syria show tanks and army checkpoints firing at unidentifiable targets, and the sounds of explosions and gunfire rattle around the streets of towns that in many cases, are little more than ruins.

Houses were shelled and people inside say they have no electricity or food.

They also claim government soldiers are now targeting water tanks on the roofs of residential apartments to destroy whatever supplies they have left.

The Red Cross had been allowed to enter the Baba Amr district of Homs on Friday to evacuate a number of wounded people.

But the humanitarian group said it has been unable to gain access since then, describing the situation there as “very urgent”.

It’s one-sided. But this is also a civil war.

Inside Syria

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) may be outgunned and outmanned, but they are attacking tanks and gun positions from buildings, firing off RPG rounds before scurrying away through back alleys as the military opens up on their positions among the ruins.

Amid all this, government supporters turned out to vote in some areas.

They support constitutional reform that promises presidential term limits, new parties and an end to the Baath party’s right to run the country.

But those who oppose the government are calling for an all-out boycott.

They, like much of the international community, want President Assad to go. They see no point in taking part in a process that does not include his departure.

But the fact is they could not vote in Homs, Idlib, Hama and Dara even if they wanted to.

It is simply far too dangerous, and there would not be anywhere to vote anyway.

A Syrian shows his referendum ballot card marked 'Agree'

A Syrian voter shows his ballot card marked ‘Agree’ with his own blood

In some parts of the capital they have attempted to stage anti-referendum protests – burning tyres and chanting anti-government slogans in districts that have been constantly cleared out by the regime’s security people over the past weeks.

They won’t last long. These areas are awash with government men.

People are still calling for international assistance. But if it is coming, it is taking a very, very long time.

So far there is little appetite for intervention and in these circumstances, President Assad has the room to finish the job as best he can.

The Syrian government says its referendum is about bringing change to the country.

But their concept of change means a Syria where the voices of dissent have been silenced for good – wiped out. Hardly a fledgling democracy in the making.

:: See more on Syria on our dedicated topic page

:: Read about journalist Marie Colvin’s last hours

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