Middle East

Vote will only deepen Syria divide: domestic opposition

This YouTube grab shows Louay Hussein

DAMASCUS: The head of a state-tolerated opposition group said the June 3 presidential election in war-torn Syria will only deepen the country's divide and boost the "arrogance" of the regime.

The election, in which President Bashar Assad is expected to stomp to victory, will "divide the Syrian people into two different races: one that votes and the other a terrorist race that has not participated", said Louay Hussein, using the regime's term for its opponents in a more than three-year-old civil war.

"It will also increase the arrogance of a regime that has stolen the people's money, freedom, blood and soul," Hussein told AFP.

The leader of the Building the Syrian State movement was detained briefly in 2011 after expressing solidarity with protesters in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the anti-Assad revolt.

He is a former member of Syria's banned communist party, and was jailed from 1984 to 1991.

Hussein is the only prominent regime-tolerated dissident to have publicly called for a boycott of the vote, which the exiled opposition has branded a "farce".

The opposition leader also lambasted the authorities' organisation of the vote.

"It's not the voters' responsibility to guarantee safe access to voting stations. It isn't possible to have an election in which only those with access will participate," Hussein said.

Large swathes of territory have fallen out of regime control, or become all-out conflict zones.

On Thursday, rebels shelled a pro-Assad election rally in Deraa, killing 21 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Hussein's movement was set up in September 2011 in Damascus, months into an uprising demanding Assad's ouster. Its members can only campaign online.

"We do not have any tools. The Syrian (state) media is not open to us, and we risk arrest or beatings if we take to the street," said Hussein.





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