People want to see improvement in their living standards on the eve of referendum.
Key dates in the first seven years of Bashar al-Assad’s presidency.
June: Hafez al-Assad, the former president, dies of a heart attack at 69. He had ruled the country since 1970. He was regularly confirmed in single-candidate referendums.
July: His son, Bashar al-Assad, 34, the sole candidate to replace him, takes power after a referendum. Official results showed he won more than 97 per cent of the vote.
Intellectuals call for political reforms and more openness and begin hosting debating “salons” in what was known as the Damascus Spring.
February: Government begins to bear down on salons, subjecting some to strict rules and closing others.
June: Most Syrian troops are withdrawn from the Lebanese capital, Beirut, with about 20,000 being kept in other parts of the country.
July: The last of the Damascus Spring salons is shut down.
March: Although his father had sent troops to take part in the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq, Bashar al-Assad refuses to support a new US-led invasion of that country – denouncing it as “barbaric aggression”.
Over the next four years, more than one million Iraqis flee across the border into Syria.
May: The US imposes sanctions on Syria, accusing it of supporting “terrorism”.
September: The UN Security Council adopts a resolution calling for all foreign troops – meaning the Syrians – to leave Lebanon.
October: The EU and Syria initial an association agreement, but the signing is postponed indefinitely.
February: Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese premier, is assassinated in a Beirut bombing. The West and the majority of the Lebanese people blame Syria, which denies responsibility.
April: The last of the Syrian troops leave Lebanon – ending a 29-year presence.
October: Opposition groups issue the Damascus Declaration calling for an end to emergency laws dating back to 1963 and other forms of political repression. Groups also call for a national conference on democratic change.
A UN investigation into al-Hariri’s assassination implicates a number of senior Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies.
April: A UN panel interviews al-Assad as Syria faces continuing pressure over the killing of al-Hariri.
May: Authorities arrest a number of Syrians who called for more balanced relations with Lebanon.
A UN Security Council resolution “strongly encourages” Syria to normalise relations with Lebanon.
November: Syria and Iraq resume diplomatic relations after a 25-year hiatus.
March-April: After years of diplomatic isolation, al-Assad receives visits from Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, and Nancy Pelosi, the US House of Representatives speaker, and opponent of George Bush, the US president.
April 22-23: Legislative polls, boycotted by the opposition, are held in which the ruling Baath party and allies retain a majority.
May 10: With his first seven-year term due to end, al-Assad makes arrangements for a new referendum.