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May 29, 2017

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Assad wins vote branded illegitimate by opposition and US

BEIJING/DAMASCUS -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has won a new seven-year term with nearly 90 percent of a vote in a poll branded "illegitimate" by the opposition and a "non-election" by the United States.

Tens of thousands took to the streets in government-held areas of Syria even before the results were announced Wednesday evening, waving portraits of Assad and the official Syrian flag.

As celebratory gunfire erupted in the capital and loyalist areas across Syria, at least 10 people were killed as the bullets fell back to earth, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Tuesday's election was held only in government-controlled areas.

In the roughly 60 percent of the country controlled by rebels, activists reacted with the Arab Spring slogan that has been the rallying cry of their uprising — "The people want the fall of the regime."

Pro-government newspapers all carried front-page photographs of the re-elected president. Images of Assad in suit and tie, or military uniform, filled the programming of state television.

A source close to the regime told AFP Assad will be sworn in for a third term on July 17, addressing parliament and laying out his new policies.

The main opposition National Coalition called the vote illegitimate and pledged that "the people are continuing in their revolution until its goals of freedom, justice and democracy are reached."

The exiled coalition also asked for "more aid for the opposition, in order to redress the imbalance of forces on the ground."

Rebels are massively outgunned by Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, Iran and Lebanon's powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, and the opposition frequently calls on states that back the revolt to better arm the rebellion.

'Great big zero'

British Foreign Secretary of State William Hague described the election as an insult.

"Assad lacked legitimacy before this election, and he lacks it afterwards," he said. "This election bore no relation to genuine democracy."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the poll a "great big zero."

"With respect to the elections that took place, the so-called elections, the elections are non-elections," he said on a visit to neighboring Lebanon on Wednesday.

"I particularly call on those nations directly supporting the Assad regime ... I call on them — Iran, Russia, and I call on Hezbollah, based right here in Lebanon — to engage in the legitimate effort to bring this war to an end," he said.

China Offers US$16 Million in Aid for Syria Refugees

China offered US$16 million in humanitarian assistance Thursday for refugees from the conflict in Syria as part of Beijing's growing engagement with the Arab world.

The assistance will go to displaced Syrians sheltering in neighboring countries, including Jordan and Lebanon, President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

More than 2.7 million Syrian refugees have been scattered across the region by a bloody, three-year uprising.

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