Damascus (AFP) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was on course Wednesday to claim a sweeping victory in an election held amid raging conflict that Washington called a “disgrace”.
Official results are only expected to be announced later this week, but a landslide win for Assad over two little-known challengers has never been in doubt.
There was no election Tuesday in the roughly 60 percent of the country outside government control, including large areas of second city Aleppo.
And in government-held areas, people cast their votes despite nationwide violence that killed 209 people on polling day, including 71 civilians, a monitoring group said.
State media trumpeted a big turnout which they said prompted polls to be kept open until midnight — five hours later than scheduled.
Pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said “millions” had voted, “defying terrorism and its mortars, rockets, car bombs and suicide attackers, to prove the legitimacy of President Bashar al-Assad for a new term that will last until 2021.”
It put turnout at 70 percent in some provinces, although opposition activists were quick to charge that people voted out of fear not conviction.
Assad “thanked all the Syrians who turned out en masse to vote.”
His office’s Facebook page said Syrians “are proving day after day their belief in a culture of life, hope and defiance, in the face of a culture of death, terrorism and narrow-mindedness.”
Of the 27 people killed in government-held areas on election day, 19 died in Aleppo, three of them children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Three more people died in Damascus as rebels fired 130 mortar rounds from the suburbs.
The sound of the mortar bombs and government strikes punctuated voting in the capital throughout the day.
Nine medical workers were killed in a raid on Zibdin, an opposition-held town near Damascus, the Observatory said.
The U.S. said it was a “disgrace” to hold an election in the midst of a three-year-old civil war that has killed more than 162,000 people and driven millions from their homes.