Syrian refugees call constitution vote pointless

Posted: February 27, 2012

WADI KHALID, Lebanon - On the Lebanon-Syria border, Syrian refugees scoffed Sunday at the idea of a referendum on a new constitution proposed by President Bashar al-Assad.

"Homs is completely destroyed," said Firas, 25, who left Syria five months ago. "Who is voting? [Assad] is telling lies to himself. Everyone around the world knows it's a big lie."

Firas asked that his last name be withheld because he still has family in Homs, Syria's third largest city. Homs has become the center of the year-old rebellion against Assad's government.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed. "It's a phony referendum and it is going to be used by Assad to justify what he's doing to other Syrian citizens," she told CBS News in Rabat, Morocco.

Syrian activists posted videos of demonstrations against the referendum across the country Sunday. The proposed constitution would, in theory, make Syria a multiparty democracy, ending nearly five decades of rule by the Baath Party.

But in Damascus, the Syrian capital, not everyone was cynical about the promise of reforms, as voters lined up to cast ballots in favor of the changes to the constitution.

Their calls weren't much different from the revolutionaries' - greater freedoms, political participation and justice - but they said trusting the regime to implement the reforms was safer than risking a civil war by relying on unknown, possibly foreign-backed elements to implement change.

Ahmad al-Moussili, 32, a teacher, said he voted because he believes that the government was serious about reform this time. To him, the evidence was in the new constitution's promise of greater freedom of expression, which he said would allow for more flexibility in negotiations between leaders and protesters.

"Because the Syrians are an educated, united, and mature people, and have lived in harmony with sects since the beginning, it's much stronger than all the external forces, which definitely will fail," Moussili said.

Rebels in Baba Amr, the most heavily damaged part of Homs, turned the vote into a joke as Syrian troops shelled the neighborhood for the 23d straight day.

They set up their own "polling station," where wounded fighters and civilians, some heavily bandaged and limping, dropped pieces of Syrian army ordnance into a box marked "The New Constitution."

"Today is the referendum in Baba Amr, and thanks to God, there are lots of people voting," said a man holding the tailfin of a mortar round as though it were a reporter's microphone.

According to activists, at least 34 people were killed across the country Sunday. The activists reported that some civilians managed to escape Baba Amr on Sunday, while a representative for the International Committee of the Red Cross said that negotiations to evacuate civilians and wounded from the area had failed for a second straight day.

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