Syrian Expatriates Balloting Midweek, Lebanese Stuck in Traffic

Syrian expats streamed to their embassy in Yarze on Wednesday to vote in a controversial presidential election, contrary to Lebanese elections held usually on weekends, which triggered suffocating traffic congestion, jamming work bound Lebanese citizens in their cars.

By midday, all the entrances to Beirut were blocked, causing long tailbacks, as thousands of Syrians descended on the embassy, mostly by foot.

Hazmieh Municipality chief Jean Asmar told Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) that the traffic congestion on Hazmieh highway began long before 7 a.m. and that the traffic block reached al-Tahweeta main road. He called on the Lebanese army for a solution.

Balloting began at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and was scheduled to carry on till seven in the evening. However Syrian ambassador in Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim Ali told the state-run National News Agency that “the balloting will be prolonged till 12 midnight due to the huge turnout for the vote, and that one more day could be scheduled for balloting.”

“The Syrian embassy will prepare the list of turnouts to be submitted to the Supreme Election Commission authorized to announce the results,” added the ambassador.

Ali considered that "these elections are a response to those who had wagered on the fall of Syria. It proves that the Syrian people are attached to their land, their country and their sovereignty."

Later in the day, the Syrian Foreign Ministry officially announced that the elections will actually be prolonged one more day as 40,000 citizens in Lebanon, which hosts more than a million refugees fleeing the violence, are on the electoral register.

The Syrian embassy in Beirut issued a statement on May 24 and called on “the Syrian citizens who recorded their names at the embassy to practice their constitutional right and take part in the presidential elections by heading to the embassy in Yarze area on May 28 from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. They should carry their passports or identity cards together with the proof that they have legally left the Syrian territory.”

The statement added: “All Syrians who were unable to record their names at the embassy should head on June 3 to one of the electoral centers on the border crossings.”

The Lebanese army deployed heavily in Yarze area and set checkpoints for security purposes as thousands of Syrians, filling the streets around their embassy, turned out to vote in Syria's controversial presidential poll being staged as civil war rages in the country.

For the early vote by expats, the Yarze district of east Beirut was festooned with Syrian flags and portraits of President Bashar Assad, who is expected to cruise to victory in the June 3 election.

The yellow flags of Hizbullah, a staunch Assad ally in the three-year conflict with rebels, were also prominent.

Of the estimated three million Syrians living abroad, including both refugees and peacetime residents, only around 200,000 were entitled to vote on Wednesday, in 39 embassies abroad, a foreign ministry source said in Damascus.

President Bashar Assad is to face two challengers in Syria's June 3 presidential election, which he is assured of winning reports say, including Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar and Hassan Abdallah al-Nouri.

Assad is all but guaranteed a victory as opposition groups are boycotting the vote and balloting will only be held in government-controlled areas of the fragmented country, where rebels hold vast territory and where entire blocks have been destroyed and emptied of their original inhabitants because of the fighting.

More than 160,000 people have been killed and millions of others displaced from their homes since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, then morphed into a civil war.

Lebanon is hosting more than a million refugees. Hundreds of thousands of others are scattered across Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and beyond.



Source: Agence France Presse, Naharnet

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