Assad sets Syria vote to end near 50-year Baath monopoly

Syria’s president, who is fighting an Arab Spring-inspired revolt, on Wednesday called a constitutional referendum that would effectively end nearly 50 years of single-party rule, state media said.

A day after rejecting UN allegations of crimes against humanity, Bashar al-Assad called the referendum for February 26, in a move aimed at placating growing global outrage over the bloodshed.

The proposed charter drops Article 8, which declared the ruling Baath Party as the “leader of the state and society,” allowing for a multi-party system, state television said.

The president, who must be a Muslim man, can serve a maximum of two seven-year terms, although it is unclear if this would apply to Assad, who is already in his second term.

In April, Assad scrapped emergency rule in force since 1963, when the Baathists took power in a coup d’etat. But he has repeatedly promised reforms that have failed to materialise since the uprising erupted in March.

The embattled 46-year-old president, who succeeded his late father Hafez in 2000, has said the constitution would usher in a “new era” for Syria, SANA state news agency said.

“When the new constitution is approved, Syria will have passed the most important stage” of reforms, bringing a “brilliant future for next generations,” Assad was quoted as saying.

The United States dismissed the move as laughable. Russia, a major weapons supplier to Damascus, welcomed it.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said “it’s actually quite laughable — it makes a mockery of the Syrian revolution.

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