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Assad sworn in for another term as Syrian leader

By Agencies in Beirut | China Daily | Updated: 2014-07-17 07:08

President says foreign powers backing rebels will pay price

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a new seven-year term on Wednesday, state media reported, after his victory in an election that affirmed his grip on power more than three years into Syria's civil conflict.

Dismissed as a sham by Assad's opponents, the vote was held in June in areas of central and northern Syria that remain under state control. Large areas of Syria have fallen to an insurgency dominated by Islamists, including a powerful al-Qaida offshoot known as the Islamic State that has also seized swaths of Iraq.

Assad, supported by Russia and Iran, has defied calls by Western states for him to step aside during the conflict, which started in 2011 with protests against his rule before descending into a war that has killed at least 170,000 people.

Syrian state television broadcast a live ceremony from the presidential palace in Damascus during which Assad took the oath of office.

The TV showed Assad arriving at the People's Palace in the Qassioun Mountain, the scenic plateau that overlooks the capital from the north. A band played the Syrian national anthem after which Assad was seen walking a red carpet past an honor guard into a hall packed with members of parliament and Christian and Muslim clergyman.

Wearing a dark blue suit and a blue shirt and tie, Assad placed his hand on Islam's holy book, the Quran, pledging to honor the country's Constitution.

"I swear by the Almighty God to respect the country's Constitution, laws and its republican system and to look after the interests of the people and their freedoms," he said.

Assad sworn in for another term as Syrian leader

He then launched into a speech in which he praised the Syrian people for holding the vote and for "defeating the dirty war" launched on the Syrian people.

He said the new administration will not stop fighting "terrorism", saying that regional and Western countries that have backed militants in Syria will pay a steep price. "We will not stop fighting terrorism and striking it wherever it is until we restore peace to every spot of Syria."

Assad has shored up his control over a strategic corridor of territory stretching north from Damascus, taking back major cities including Homs. His forces are now squeezing rebels in Aleppo.

But to the east and northeast, large parts of the country are in insurgents' hands. The militant Islamic State has expanded its control in recent weeks, defeating other Islamist factions with new weaponry brought in from Iraq.

The US, which has repeatedly said Assad has lost legitimacy, had described the election as meaningless.

Official returns showed Assad winning 88.7 percent of the vote. It was the first contested presidential election in Syria. Previous votes had been referendums to approve the appointment of Bashar and his father, Hafez al-Assad, who died in 2000.

Russia, which has supplied Assad with crucial diplomatic support, said the election had been fair, free and transparent and criticized governments that denounced it.

The United Nations has said that about 10.8 million people in Syria are now in need of help, of which 4.7 million are in hard-to-reach areas.

Reuters - AP - Xinhua

(China Daily 07/17/2014 page10)

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