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Turnout high in presidential vote overseas: Syrian minister

Posted on May 28 2014 | IANS

Damascus, May 28 : A senior Syrian official said Wednesday that turnout has been high in overseas balloting of the country's presidential elections.

"The turnout in the presidential elections for Syrians abroad is high and the decision by some countries to ban the voting process on their territories runs against the international law and the Syrian sovereignty," Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar told Xinhua in an interview.

Haidar did not give an exact figure, but state-run SANA news agency reported that "due to the large number of voters", authorities decided to extend voting, originally set to end at 7 p.m., by five hours to midnight.

Syria's Ambassador in Beirut, Ali Abdulkarim, was quoted by SANA as saying that the number of voters is expected to hit tens of thousands.

Overseas Syrians started to cast ballots Wednesday in the presidential elections. Only citizens with valid Syrian passports and legal resident status in host countries who left Syria legally may cast their ballots in the one-day vote.

Inside Syria, voting is scheduled for June 3. The number of eligible voters in and outside Syria has exceeded 15 million, according to a statement by the Syrian interior ministry, which said it had undertaken all necessary procedures to secure voting in Syria.

The electoral campaigns started May 11 and will end 24 hours ahead of next Tuesday's voting.

The three candidates -- incumbent President Bashar al-Assad, former minister Hassan al-Nouri and lawmaker Maher Hajjar -- have already put forth their electoral platforms, including how to rescue the collapsed economy.

The election will be the first to be held in half a century.

Previously, there were only referendums to support Assad or his late father, Hafez al-Assad, who was in office from 1971 to 2000.

In 2007, the junior Assad won seven more years in office with 97 percent of the vote in a nationwide referendum on his leadership in which he was the only candidate.

The Syrian opposition and Western powers have dismissed the 2014 voting as a farce. Most European countries and many Arab countries said they would not allow the voting process to be carried out on their territories.

Two major opposition groups at home, namely the National Coordination Body (NCB) and the Building Syria State, have boycotted the vote, saying it would have negative impact on the political process in Syria, as Assad is expected to get an easy win against the other two contestants, who have not been publicly known before the voting.

More than 150,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced since March 2011 when opposition protestors first sought to oust Assad and his government, which later morphed into a bloody war between government troops and armed rebels.

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