19 Feb 2012

China supports Syrian referendum plan - report

5:42 am on 19 February 2012

State television in Syria says China is backing President Bashar al-Assad's plans for a referendum leading to parliamentary elections as a way to resolve the Syrian crisis.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun is in Damascus, after China and Russia voted against a resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly telling Syria's increasingly isolated president to halt the crackdown on anti-Government protesters and surrender power.

China says Syria must be allowed to resolve its problems without being dictated terms by foreign powers.

Syrian TV has quoted Mr Zhai as saying he hopes a referendum on the constitution and parliamentary elections take place "in a continuous way."

"China...calls on the government, the opposition and those with arms for an immediate stop to the violence," he was quoted as saying.

President Assad announced his plan this week for a referendum on a new constitution on 26 February, followed by a multi-party election.

Russia, which also refused to back the UN resolution, says it is willing to seek a compromise to resolve the situation.

Violence rages on

Syrian government forces have disregarded the United Nations condemnation and renewed their bombardment of the opposition stronghold of Homs.

Activists say security forces have also shot dead at least three pro-democracy demonstrators at one of the biggest protests against President Assad in Damascus.

Demonstrations against the president have been reported by activists in cities across Syria.

The three youths killed in Damascus were shot following Friday prayers, when thousands of demonstrators marched out of mosques in the Mezze district of the capital.

The district is a few kilometres from President Assad's residence.

Syria's unrest started out as civilian protests across the country last March but now includes an armed struggle spearheaded by the Free Syria Army.

Western and Arab powers fear the crisis is sliding into a civil war which could inflame the region's patchwork of religious, ethnic and political rivalries.

President Assad portrays the opposition as foreign-backed terrorists and has promised reforms while rejecting the idea of surrendering power.