In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian first lady Asma Assad, right, casts her vote as Syrian President Bashar Assad, stands next to her at a polling station, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, June 3, 2014.(AP Photo/SANA)
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Waving photos of President Bashar Assad and dancing with flags, tens of thousands of Syrians pledged renewed allegiance to Assad as they voted Tuesday in a presidential election that excluded a vast swath of the pre-war population and was decried by the opposition as a charade.Men and women wore lapel pins with Assad's picture and said re-electing him would give the Syrian leader more legitimacy to find a solution to the devastating three-year conflict that activists say has killed more than 160,000 people, about a third of whom were civilians.The vote is also Syria's first multi-candidate presidential election in more than 40 years and is being touted by the government as a referendum measuring Syrians' support for Assad.In government strongholds of Damascus and Latakia, the voting took on a carnival-like atmosphere, with voters singing and dancing, all the while declaring undying loyalty to Assad.Assad cast his ballot in the morning at a school in his posh Damascus neighborhood of al-Malki.The Interior Ministry said there were 15.8 million eligible voters, both inside and outside Syria, and that 9,600 voting centers have been set up around the country.
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