Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Voters Turn out for Syria's Assad [Derived Headline]

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Voters Turn out for Syria's Assad [Derived Headline]

Article excerpt

Voters turn out for Syria's Assad

DAMASCUS, Syria - Waving photos of President Bashar Assad and dancing with flags, tens of thousands of Syrians pledged renewed allegiance to President Bashar Assad as they voted today in a presidential election that excluded a vast swath of the pre-war population and was decried by the opposition as a charade.

Some stamped their ballots with blood after pricking their fingers with pins supplied by the government in a symbolic act of allegiance and patriotism. Others chose to vote in full sight of other voters and television cameras - rather than go behind a partition curtain for privacy.

Men and women wore lapel pins with Mr. Assad's picture and said re-electing him would give the Syrian leader more legitimacy to find a solution to the devastating three-year conflict that activists say has killed more than 160,000 people, about a third of whom were civilians.

Security was tight, with multiple rings of checkpoints set up around the Syrian capital and its entrances. Troops searched cars and asked people for their IDs.

In the early evening, state television said the electoral committee extended voting by five hours because of "high turnout at the ballot box."

Even as crowds of Mr. Assad's supporters flocked to the polls in Damascus, the sounds of war were inescapable. At least three fighter jets roared low over Damascus during the voting, which residents said was unusual.

The dull sounds of explosions also reverberated in the distance as pro-government forces and rebels battled in nearby rural towns and ashy plumes of gray smoke marked the skyline. Several mortar hits were reported in the capital, including one that crashed near the Opera House on a major plaza, though the voting was largely peaceful.

The balloting is only taking place in government-controlled areas, excluding much of northern and eastern Syria. Tens of thousands of Syrians abroad voted last week, although many of the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees across the region either abstained or were excluded by voting laws.

Lebanon straining to help refugees

BEIRUT - The president of the World Bank warned today that Lebanon is reaching "breaking point" in terms of its ability to deal with the massive influx of Syrian refugees.

Speaking in an interview today after visiting with Syrian refugee students at a public school east of Beirut, Jim Yong Kim urged international donors to increase their financial support to the tiny Arab country.

Lebanon, home to 4.5 million people, is struggling to cope with the presence of more than 1 million refugees in desperate need of housing, education and medical care.

Lebanon has begun efforts to curb the flow of refugees. Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas told reporters Monday that Lebanon will no longer accept Syrians as refugees if they come from safe areas or regions far from the Lebanese border. …

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