Deadly unrest fuels suspicion on eve of Syria vote

Syria's authorities and the opposition traded accusations Sunday over who was behind blasts that rocked Damascus and Aleppo, on the eve of parliamentary polls designed to boost the regime's legitimacy.

Overnight violence in Damascus province killed three people, a rights watchdog said, as the authorities made final preparations for a vote it says is crucial for building "the new Syria" but which the opposition has already dismissed as a "farce."

Information Minister Adnan Mahmud said that voting on Monday was an act of defiance.

"By taking part in the election, Syrians are defying the campaign of terrorism and aggression led by international and regional parties implicated in a terrorist war against our country," he said in a statement.

President Bashar al-Assad meanwhile on Sunday laid a wreath at a monument on Mount Kassioun, which overlooks the Syrian capital, to commemorate the annual Martyrs Day.

The opposition for its part blamed the regime for two bomb blasts Saturday in Damascus and one in Aleppo, where according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights an explosion hit a car wash as a bus was passing by, killing at least five people.

"It is the regime that caused these mysterious explosions. We are suggesting an international commission of inquiry," said Omar Idelbi, spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees, which organizes protests on the ground.

"The revolutionaries have no interest in these explosions," he told AFP.

But state media, which reported three deaths from the Aleppo blast - including a 10-year-old boy - blamed "terrorists" linked to the opposition for carrying out Saturday's attacks in a bid to sow instability ahead of the vote.

The Britain-based Observatory said on Sunday a young man was gunned down by regime troops during the night in the town of Al-Tal, while an explosion killed two in Daf al-Shouk area, also in Damascus province.

Army attacks on rebel positions continued elsewhere in Syria, with several people wounded and a number of houses destroyed when the Arida village in central Homs province was shelled, the Observatory said.

In the eastern province of Deir az-Zour, government troops reportedly carried out a number of raids and made arrests in the town of Al-Quriya.

Monday's vote, against a backdrop of unrest which the Observatory says has killed more than 11,000 people since March last year, will do little to change the autocratic country, according to regime critics and analysts.

The vote, initially scheduled for September 2011, was postponed to May 7 this year after President Bashar al-Assad announced the launch of a reform process.

Bashar al-Haraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the principal opposition coalition, has labeled the elections a "farce which can be added to the regime's masquerade."

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre, told AFP the elections were "cosmetic" and "no one in the international community takes these elections seriously."

Washington has described them as "ridiculous."

Security and logistical concerns notwithstanding, the credibility of the vote has also been hit by the refusal of the main opposition forces to participate.

Monday's election will be the first time Syria has held multi-party elections since the adoption in February by referendum of a new constitution that ended the five-decade stranglehold on power of the ruling Baath party.

Nine parties have been created, and seven have candidates vying for a parliamentary seat.

Pro-regime parties led by the Baath are represented under a coalition called the National Progressive Front.

A total of 7,195 candidates have registered to stand for the 250 seats, state news agency SANA said.

But experts believe little will change politically in Syria, where a tenuous UN-backed ceasefire that came into effect on April 12 has failed to take hold.

"The elections are a step in a void and will not lead to any change in the political landscape and security of Syria," Oraib al-Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told AFP.

It is taking place "amid a lack of security, continued killings and violence... while [many] are detained, suffering or displaced," Rantawi said, dismissing the elections as "media propaganda."

"This will be a parliament of liars. I will not vote for a parliament built on the blood of the martyrs," an officer of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) told AFP.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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