Surreal vote in Syria
This is like something out of a Bertolt Brecht play. As President Assad's forces gun down 31 more Syrian civilians, the country is going to the polls to approve a new constitution that could keep Assad in power until 2028.
Voting was under way in the referendum on a new constitution, which Assad says will lead to a multi-party parliamentary election in three months, but his opponents see as a sick joke given Syria's turmoil.
"What should we be voting for, whether to die by bombardment or by bullets? This is the only choice we have," said Waleed Fares, an activist in the Khalidiyah district of Homs.
"We have been trapped in our houses for 23 days. We cannot go out, except into some alleys. Markets, schools and government buildings are closed, and there is very little movement on the streets because of snipers," he said.
He said another besieged and battered district, Baba Amro, had had no food or water for three days. "Homs in general has no electricity for 18 hours a day." With most foreign reporters barred from Syria or heavily restricted, witness reports are hard to verify.
The Interior Ministry acknowledged obliquely that security conditions had disrupted voting, saying: "The referendum on a new constitution is taking place in a normal way in most provinces so far, with a large turnout, except in some areas."
The Syrian government, backed by Russia, China and Iran, and undeterred by Western and Arab pressure to halt the carnage, says it is fighting foreign-backed "armed terrorist groups."
Prime Minister Adel Safar, asked about opposition calls for a boycott, said this showed a lack of interest in dialogue.
"There are some groups that have a Western and foreign agenda and do not want reforms in Syria and want to divert Syria's steadfastness," he told reporters in Damascus.
"We are not concerned with this. We care about ... spreading democracy and freedom in the country," Safar said.
Assad sure has a funny way of "spreading democracy and freedom in the country." Unless he means, as the Greeks sang, everyone is equal in death and all are free to be slaughtered for demonstrating against an oppressive regime.
This is truly one of the most bizarre moments in recent history; a people being asked to vote for their own execution.
Brecht's "Mack the Knife" is appropriate here:
When that shark bites with his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows begin to spread
Fancy gloves, wears old MacHeath, babe
So there's never, never a trace of red