Middle East

Counterpolls staged to protest presidential election

BEIRUT: Anti-regime activists staged counterelections, rallies and protest actions throughout areas where the armed opposition holds sway, to condemn Tuesday’s presidential election.

In the divided city of Aleppo, residents of one neighborhood set up a ballot box adorned with their slogan, “I approve stripping the killer Bashar Assad of his citizenship.”

More than a simple photo-op, the young man running the “polling station” took down personal information from those who showed up and gave them special black ballots to be placed inside the box, as a line of people anxious to cast their votes formed behind him.

Mohammad, an anti-regime activist with the Aleppo Media Center, told The Daily Star that while the various protests underway were morale-raisers, he was just as happy at the news, relayed by people in regime-held areas of the city, of a weak turnout.

“The regime’s people are going around to all government offices, hospitals and universities, asking people to vote,” he said.

In the runup to the vote, statements and rumors were rife about the possibility of seeing polling stations in regime-held areas targeted by rebel groups. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group based in the United Kingdom, said that shelling by rebels killed at least 11 people in government-held areas.

“This was ‘normal’ shelling,” Mohammad said. “It wasn’t a deliberate targeting of polling stations.”

The Observatory said one of the rebel attacks targeted a regime military post, causing an unknown number of casualties.

The largest rebel alliance, the Islamic Front, vowed one day before the election that it would refrain from targeting polling stations while 11 civilian groups active in Aleppo urged the various militias to also avoid such a tactic.

The Observatory said regime airstrikes and barrel bombs dropped by helicopter targeted a number of rebel-held areas of Aleppo, meanwhile, killing at least two people, with the death toll expected to rise.

The Syrian Revolution Coordination Union, meanwhile, organized counterelections in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and the southern province of Deraa.

A video posted of a “polling station” in Deraa shows youngsters staging a short protest and holding signs calling for the election of various casualties of the war to the country’s highest political post.

“The people want to elect the martyr” read one sign held by a youngster, playing on the signature slogan of the Arab uprisings, “the people want to topple the regime.”

In the Ghouta region outside Damascus, the suburb of Douma saw a petition drive that encouraged people to fill out papers endorsing a “martyr” of the uprising.

A young man who explains the reason for the protest said that “we’re looking for a way to tell the U.N. and Western countries that we don’t want him [Assad] ... there’s a [billion] other people [who could be president].”

“Write down the name of the martyr,” an elderly man says to a resident. “Elect your martyrs.”

“He died of hunger,” responds one man, as he fills out a paper.

Various parts of the Ghouta suburbs have seen dozens of people die from malnutrition and a lack of medical care during long sieges by regime forces and paramilitary allies.

In Kurdish areas of the country across the north and northeast, most people stayed away from the voting, according to media reports by pro-opposition outlets and statements by Kurdish officials.

In the Kurdish town of Amouda, which saw a number of anti-regime protests during the early part of the war, residents staged a short demonstration and held signs voicing their rejection of the presidential polls.

Farther east in the Kurdish self-rule area, officials said categorically the election was prevented from taking place in line with the local government’s decision to boycott.

The Hawar Kurdish media outlet quoted a local police official, Sarpest Rizan, as saying that his party confiscated more than 100 ballot boxes distributed by the government in the city of Qamishli.

“We sent out patrols to neighborhoods where we heard ballot boxes had been placed, with the exception of the [regime’s] security perimeter, which we have nothing to do with,” he said. “Residents of a number of neighborhoods of Qamishli demonstrated in rejection of the poll, and we sent our patrols to protect them,” he added.

And in the city of Hama, which is controlled by regime forces, student anti-regime activists posted a video a day before the polls, showing themselves dumping red dye into the Orontes River at the city’s famed water wheels, in line with the “no to blood elections” slogan adopted by opposition supporters.












A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 04, 2014, on page 8.




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