Syria says new constitution approved

Charter meant to end decades of one-party rule receives 89.4 per cent approval, state TV says.

Syrian TV said that 57.4 per cent of eligible voters voted in Sunday’s referendum [Reuters]

Syrian state television has announced that 89.4 per cent of voters said “yes” to new constitution in a controversial referendum.

Syrian TV said on Monday that 57.4 per cent of eligible voters voted the day earlier and that only nine per cent said “no” to the referendum that President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents and Western nations have dismissed as a sham.

The announcement of the results came just after the European Union adopted sanctions on Syria’s central bank and froze the assets of several Syrian government officials.

The foreign ministers of the 27 EU countries, in a meeting in Brussels on Monday, also banned the purchase of gold, precious metals and diamonds from the country, and banned Syrian cargo flights from the European Union.

The names of the Syrian officials sanctioned would be made public on Tuesday in the EU’s official journal.

In another development on Monday, Qatar’s prime minister said he was in favour of delivering arms to the Syrian opposition that is battling government forces.

“We should do whatever necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said during an official visit to Norway.

“This uprising in Syria now [has lasted] one year. For 10 months, it was peaceful: nobody was carrying weapons, nobody was doing anything. And Bashar continued killing them.

“So I think they’re right to defend themselves by weapons and I think we should help these people by all means.”

Violence resumes

The diplomatic developments came as activists reported the deaths of 15 people across the country, including two children, on Monday.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an umbrella opposition group, said six people were killined when government forces bombarded In Bab Amr, an opposition stronghold in Hom, for the 24th day.

Explosions were also reported in the neighbourhouds of Hamidiyeh, Bustan al-Diwan and the city centre.

In other parts of the country, the LCC said that four people were killed – in the northwestern province of Idlib, two in the Damascus Subburbs, one in Raqqa and one in al-Hasake.

The town of Tiyaneh in Deir Ezzor experienced violent clashes between government forces and the armed opposition, the LCC said.

Elsewhere, armed pro-government supporters known as Shabiha chased students staging a sit-in at the University of Aleppo’s faculty of dentistry, activists said.

They said gunfire was later heard at the university campus where demonstrators were trapped in halls of residence, while 14 were arrested.

More than 8,000 people have been killed in violence across Syria since anti-government protests erupted in March 2011, according to the LCC.

One-party rule

The approved constitution, framed by a committee of 29 people appointed by Assad, would drop the highly controversial Article 8 in the existing charter, which makes the Baath party “the head of state and society”.

That would effectively end the monopoly on power the Baathists have enjoyed since they seized power in a 1963 coup that brought Assad’s late father, Hafez, to power.

Instead, the new political system would be based on “pluralism”, although it would ban the formation of parties on religious lines.

Under the new charter, the president would maintain his grip on broad powers, as he would still name the prime minister and government and, in some cases, could veto legislation.

Article 88 states that the president can be elected for two seven-year terms, but Article 155 says these conditions only take effect after the next election for a head of state, set for 2014.

This means that Assad could theoretically stay at the helm for another 16 years.

This is Syria’s third referendum since Assad inherited power from his late father. The first installed him as president in 2000 with an official 97.2 per cent in favour.

The second renewed his term seven years later with 97.6 per cent in favour.

Source: News Agencies