Syrians were called on to cast ballots in parliamentary elections. The vote was billed as being part of the country's reform process by President Assad's government, but opposition forces boycotted it.
The government in Damascus said voters turned out en masse Monday for a parliamentary election dismissed by opposition forces as a sham. There are 250 parliamentary seats up for grabs, but with the opposition urging a boycott, the prospect of surprise results seems slim.
State news agency SANA reported a large turnout, with the chairman of Syria's Higher Committee for Elections, Khalif al-Azzawi, saying that voting was proceeding "normally and quietly" across the country.
There were also unconfirmed reports of further violence across the restless country, however.
In Washington, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the deaths of 9,000 people in the past 14 months in Syria as a "totally unacceptable and intolerable situation." Addressing the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank, on Monday, Ban said the UN's main priority was to deploy a supervision mission to further monitor the shaky Syrian cease-fire.
SANA meanwhile reported that the leader of the existing observer mission, General Robert Mood, met with Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in Damascus on Monday. According to the state-run news outlet, the foreign minister asked the mission "to be objective and professional and to relay the reality of the situation in Syria to the international community."
A sham, or a sign of change?
Mood arrived in Syria late in April; Monday's meeting was his first with al-Muallem. Roughly 40 UN observers are currently stationed in Syria, though the world body aims to bolster their ranks to 300 truce monitors in a bid to contain the violence.
The monitors' deployment is part of a six-point peace plan penned by special envoy Kofi Annan. As well as a cease-fire, the agreement seeks to arrange political dialogue between the Assad regime and the opposition.
About 15 million of Syria's 24 million inhabitants are eligible to vote. The parliamentary elections are the first to take place under a new constitution, adopted three months ago. That charter has for the first time allowed separate parties to form and compete against President Bashar al-Assad's Baath party. It also limits the president's tenure to two seven-year terms. The opposition has decried these changes as only skin-deep, saying they will not change the structure of Syrian rule.
They have also decided not to take part or seek to field candidates. Regional experts say security services vet opposition candidates, preventing those who strongly oppose Assad's rule from standing for office.
msh/acb (AP, dpa, Reuters)