Syrians are voting in a parliamentary election in government-held areas of the country.
Voters have called it a show of support for President Bashar al-Assad, who is holding the poll in defiance of opponents seeking to oust him.
The election is independent of a UN-led peace process that wants a political solution to the five-year-long war.
The government says it is being held on time, in line with the constitution. The opposition says the vote is illigetimate, while Britain and France dismissed it as “flimsy facade” and a “sham”.
“We are voting for the sake of the Syrian people and for the sake of Assad.
Assad is already strong, but these elections show that the people support him and bolster him,” said Hadi Jumaa, a 19-year-old student, as he cast his ballot at his university halls of residence, in Damascus.
Dozens queued to vote at one polling station, where a portrait of Assad hung on the wall. Outside, some danced.
With his wife, Asma, at his side as he went to vote in Damascus, a smiling Assad told state TV that terrorism had destroyed much of Syria’s infrastructure, but not Syria’s “social structure, the national identity”. It was the first time he had voted in a parliamentary election.
The conflict has killed 250,000 people and created millions of refugees, splintering Syria into a patchwork of areas controlled by the government, an array of rebels, a powerful Kurdish militia, and the Islamic State group. The government views all the groups fighting it as terrorists.
The government controls one third of Syria, including the main cities of the west, home to most of the people who have not fled the country. The United Nations puts the number of refugees at 4.8m.
With parliament elected every four years, it is the second parliamentary election in wartime. Assad was re-elected head of state in a presidential election in 2014.
Voters are to elect 250 MPs to a parliament that has no real power in Syria’s presidential system. The state is rallying them around the slogan ‘Your vote strengthens your steadfastness’.
The election coincides with the start of a second round of UN-led peace talks in Geneva. The opposition delegation met UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura. The government has said it will be ready to participate from tomorrow.
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