Assad calls Syria vote, regime 'takes' rebel city

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Syrian protest
Damascus, Mar 13: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today set an election for May 7, even as monitors said fresh violence cost more than 40 lives and a pro-government daily reported the capture of a rebel city.

Assad's announcement of parliamentary elections came as UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan said he was still expecting a response from the Syrian leader to "concrete proposals" to halt one year of bloodshed.

State news agency SANA said Assad, who has proposed a programme of reforms in the face of an unprecedented revolt, has set May 7 as the date for elections under a new constitution passed in February.

The elections would be the third such polls since Assad came to power in 2000, but the first under a multi-party system as authorised under the new law.

Washington immediately dismissed the proposed vote. "Parliamentary elections for a rubber-stamp parliament in the middle of the kind of violence that we're seeing across the country -- it's ridiculous," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington.

Annan, speaking to reporters in Ankara after meeting with Syria's opposition, said he was "expecting to hear from Syrian authorities today since I left some concrete proposals for them to consider."

But there was no response announced in Damascus by early evening.

Annan was referring to weekend meetings in Damascus with Assad, after which he had expressed optimism the crisis could be resolved peacefully but warned the situation in Syria was at a "dangerous" level.

The former UN chief also said he had a "useful meeting" with six representatives of the opposition Syrian National Council headed by Burhan Ghalioun, whom he said had "promised their full cooperation."

AFP

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