June 3 - Syrians vote in an election expected to deliver an overwhelming victory for President Bashar al-Assad in the midst of a devastating civil war. Sarah Toms reports.
Voters in parts of Syria go to the polls. Security has been tightened, as the presidential election takes place in the midst of a civil war. Tens of thousands of people have died and millions more have been displaced in the past three years. Here in the capital, though, President Bashar al-Assad is widely expected to win a third seven-year term in office. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) DAMASCUS RESIDENT, ALAA, SAYING: "It is the smallest duty to vote by blood. I think the elections are the best way to express our opinion. We are with President Bashar al-Assad until the end of our lives" Officials say the vote is a way to resolve the crisis. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) OMRAN AL-ZOABI, SYRIAN INFORMATION MINISTER, SAYING: "The big majority of Syrians feels that this aggressive crisis should end and they must get out of what happened and that what was happening should not continue. The majority of Syrians are convinced that the key to the end of the crisis will be the presidential elections" Critics of the Syrian government, though, denounce the election as a sham. It is the first time in decades that more than one name has appeared on the ballot paper. The other two candidates - Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri - are not widely known. They've been unable to campaign on an equal footing with the president. The interior ministry says there are nearly 16 million eligible voters, both inside and outside Syria. But with many parts of the country either under rebel control or in areas being fought over, voting is only taking place in government-held territory -- like Damascus -- where voters are only too happy to show their support for Assad.