27 Feb 2012

Syria holds constitution vote amid continuing violence

6:12 am on 27 February 2012

The Syrian government is holding a national referendum on a new constitution amid continuing violent unrest and a boycott by the opposition.

The referendum the centrepiece of the reform process proposed by President Bashar al-Assad in response to the uprising against his government which began nearly a year ago.

According to the Interior Ministry, 14,000 polling stations have been set up across Syria for an estimated 14.6 million eligible voters.

State television has been holding discussions about the new document and telling people how they can vote.

The new constitution allows for more opposition to Mr Assad's Baath Party, however, the BBC reports that the constitution has been rejected out of hand by the opposition.

One group described the it as fraudulent and the referendum as a farce.

It pointed out that the regime had never respected the old constitution, which enshrines freedom of speech and peaceful demonstrations and bans torture.

Syrian activists say about 100 people have been killed in the latest violence across the country.

A quarter of the dead are said to be members of the security forces.

Homs evacuation stalled

Attempts by the Red Cross to evacuate more people trapped in the Syrian city of Homs have stalled.

The organisation has been in negotiation with Syrian authorities, but had made no more progress by nightfall on Saturday.

Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent ambulances evacuated several wounded people from the suburb of Baba Amr on Friday, but not two injured Western reporters.

Baba Amr has been under heavy bombardment for about three weeks.