Anti-Assad allies: elections will kill peace talks

Photo: Anti-Assad allies: elections will kill peace talks / Arabic region

Friends of Syria, an alliance of mainly Western and Gulf Arab countries supporting the opposition battling against President Bashar al-Assad, firmly rebuffed on Thursday any idea of a presidential election organized by the Syrian government in the midst of a civil war, Al Arabiya reported.

The international powers issued a statement on Thursday describing the election plans as a "parody of democracy" that would kill peace talks.

"Elections organized by the Assad regime would be a parody of democracy, would reveal the regime's rejection of the basis of the Geneva talks, and would deepen the division of Syria," Reuters quoted the 11-strong group, which includes the United States, France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as saying.

If Assad runs, in defiance of the opposition and Western leaders who have demanded he step down, that would end the U.N.-backed Geneva peace process, which was predicated on steps towards a democratic transition.

Syria's parliament set residency rules for presidential candidates in March, a move that would bar many of Assad's foes who live in exile.

"Recent actions by the Assad regime to pave the way for presidential elections in the coming months, including the promulgation of a new electoral law, have no credibility," the group said.

It added: "Bashar al-Assad intends these elections to sustain his dictatorship."

The group also said there was no legitimacy in an election conducted in the midst of a conflict, only in government-controlled areas, and with millions of Syrians disenfranchised, displaced from their homes, or in refugee camps.

"An electoral process led by Assad, who the United Nations considers to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, mocks the innocent lives lost in the conflict."

Syria's three-year civil war has killed more than 150,000 people, a third of them civilians, and caused millions to flee.

In a related story, the head of the mission charged with destroying Syria's chemical weapons told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that Syria can still meet the April 27 deadline to remove all chemical agents from the country even though shipments have been halted for two weeks because of worsening security, the Associated Press reported U.N. diplomats as saying.

Sigrid Kaag briefed the council by videoconference on the hold-up in the Syrian government's shipment overseas of the raw materials for its poison gas and nerve agent program, and the destruction of less potent chemicals inside the country.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the shipments stopped on March 20.

He said authorities informed Kaag's mission that the halt of shipments was due to the deteriorating security situation in Latakia province, where the chemicals are put on ships in the port of Latakia.

Kaag told the council that the Syrian government said it halted the movement of convoys because of worsening security, according to the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the briefing was private.

But the government informed Kaag's mission on Sunday that it wanted to resume operations "in coming days," they said.

Kaag tweeted after the meeting that a "swift resumption" of chemical weapons transports is "needed alongside continued verification."

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