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Syrians Vote on Reform as Violence Continues
February 26, 2012

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Under the shadow of continued violence, Syrians voted on a proposed revision to the country's constitution that could result in President Bashar al-Assad's remaining in power for another 16 years.

Assad's government says that the constitutional changes will eventually lead to a multi-party parliamentary election, something that the current government doesn't feature. Turnout was normal, the government said, and results are expected to be announced very soon.

At the moment, Assad and his Baath are the sole political representatives in the government. The referendum, if passed, would remove that restriction, allowing other political parties to run candidates in elections, including for president. Further, the president would be limited to two seven-year terms. The catch regarding Assad, though, is that that term limit would be applied retrospectively, meaning that Assad's two-term restriction would begin after his current term expires, in 2014.

Meanwhile, the death toll continued to rise, with more than 30 people killed on Sunday across the country. Homs, the country's third-largest city, endured its fourth straight week of bombardment. Residents reported a shortage of food, water, supplies, and electricity.

The election and violence continued despite increasing pressure from Middle East and Western nations. The Arab League has expelled Syria and slapped it with sanctions. Western countries have also applied sanctions and have called for Assad to step aside and give way to discussions between the government and the opposition.

Many observers fear that the ongoing conflict will descend into sectarian violence. The majority of the country adheres to the Sunni tradition of Islam. Assad and the government, however, count themselves as part of the Alawite faction of the Shia tradition. The dispute between Shia and Sunni goes back hundreds of years.



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