U.N.: Syria among ‘gravest concerns’
(CNN) — International envoy Kofi Annan will brief the U.N. Security Council on the Syrian crisis Tuesday, a day after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the situation has become one of the “most serious and gravest concerns of the international community.”
“More than 9,000 people have been killed during the last 14 months. This is totally unacceptable, and an intolerable situation,” Ban said. “… The cessation of violence must stop by all the parties,” including government and opposition forces.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government touted a “wide turnout” for parliamentary elections held Monday, when more than 7,000 candidates vied for 250 parliamentary seats. The voting took place despite incessant reports of violence and international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that judicial supervision of the vote would ensure “fairness, freedom and democracy.”
But members of the opposition urged Syrians to boycott the elections, saying a vote for any of the candidates amounted to a vote for al-Assad, whose family has ruled the country for 42 years.
“We are moving ahead till we topple the regime,” read a slogan on an opposition election poster that purported to show its candidates: victims of al-Assad’s violent crackdown on those calling for his ouster.
Opposition activists said at least 34 people were killed Monday, including five children, two women and five defected soldiers.
SANA, meanwhile, said 15 military members were buried Monday.
In parts of Daraa province, regime thugs tried to force civilians to vote, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. The group reported gunfire in Yadouda, where security forces used bulldozers to open roads and break a strike, according to the LCC.
In the embattled Baba Amr neighborhood in the city of Homs, an opposition member identified as Abo Odi said there was no sign of an election in the bombed-out community.
“Homs is totally destroyed, and some neighborhoods are empty of people and the rest of the city is controlled by the army or by (the rebel Free Syrian Army),” he said.
The election follows the adoption of a new constitution under which political parties can compete with al-Assad’s ruling Baath Party. A referendum in February, hailed by government supporters as a step toward reform, was widely ridiculed by analysts and the opposition as window dressing.
Spurred by the success of popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Syrians first took to the streets in March 2011 calling for reforms and increased political freedoms. But a brutal government crackdown against demonstrators saw the movement quickly devolve into an uprising with an armed resistance.
Both the Syrian regime and the rebel Free Syrian Army have agreed to a peace plan brokered by Annan, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria. A key element of the plan involves a cease-fire by all parties, plus the withdrawal of Syrian forces from populated areas.
But reports of attacks have only mounted since April 12, when the cease-fire was supposed to go into effect.
Annan’s plan calls for the government to allow humanitarian aid groups access to the population, the release of detainees and initiation of political dialogue.
Seventy U.N. observers are in Syria, according to the state-run news agency, with more expected next week and 300 expected by the end of the month to monitor the cease-fire and peace plan.
World powers, including many of Syria’s Arab neighbors, have condemned the ongoing violence, which has pitted al-Assad’s Alawite minority-dominated government against a predominantly Sunni uprising.
The opposition LCC says more than 11,000 people have been killed in the past 14 months. CNN cannot independently verify reports of violence and deaths within Syria, as the government has restricted access by most of the international media.
CNN’s Saad Abedine and Stacey Samuel contributed to this report.