Referendum on new constitution begins,31 killed in Syria onslaught

At least 31 Syrian civilians and soldiers were killed in bloodshed

Written by Reuters | Beirut | Published: February 27, 2012 1:04 am

At least 31 Syrian civilians and soldiers were killed on Sunday in bloodshed that coincided with a vote on a new constitution that could keep President Bashar al-Assad in power until 2028.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a military bombardment of Opposition districts in Homs,now in its fourth week,had killed nine civilians,while rebel fighters had killed four soldiers in clashes in the city. The British-based Observatory said eight civilians and 10 members of the security forces were killed in violence elsewhere in Syria,scene of what has become an increasingly militarised revolt against four decades of Assad family rule.

Voting was under way in the referendum on a constitution which Assad says will lead to a multi-party parliamentary election in three months,but which his opponents see as a sick joke given the unrest convulsing the country.

“What should we be voting for,whether to die by bombardment or by bullets? This is the only choice we have,” said Waleed Fares,an activist in the Khalidiyah district of Homs.

If approved,the constitution would drop an article making Assad’s Baath party the leader of state and society,allow political pluralism and enact a presidential limit of two seven-year terms. But the limit will not be enforced retrospectively,meaning Assad,in power for 11 years,could serve another two terms after his current one expires in 2014.

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