Bashar al-Assad to face two candidates in Syria presidential vote

Bashar al-Assad to face two candidates in Syria presidential vote

DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse
Bashar al-Assad to face two candidates in Syria presidential vote

A handout picture released on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on April 29 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) and his wife Asma al-Assad (R) meeting in Damascus with family's of Syrians who have lost relatives while fighting for the government regime in the country's ongoing civil war. AFP Photo

Syria President Bashar al-Assad is to face two challengers in Syria's June 3 presidential election, the constitutional court said.

"The supreme constitutional court announces... the acceptance of candidacy bids registered by... Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar, Hassan Abdallah al-Nuri and Bashar Hafez al-Assad," a court official saidn May 4.

Twenty-three candidates had initially registered to run against Assad, but most did not meet election criteria to run for office in a vote that has been mocked by the opposition and the West as a "farce." Both Hajjar and Nuri are largely unknown to the Syrian public.

Candidates whose bids were rejected have until May 7 to appeal the court's decision, said Majed al-Khadra of the constitutional court, whose statement was carried by state television.While the election is the country's first multi-candidate vote, the rules effectively rule out any opponents to Assad's regime from running.

Among them is the stipulation that anyone who has lived outside Syria in the past decade is excluded, effectively barring most prominent opposition figures, who live in exile. At the same time, the vote will only be held in areas under government control.

Deal clinched for rebel retreat from Homs

Syrian rebels have reached a deal with the government to pull out opposition fighters, civilians and wounded people from the army-besieged city of Homs, a rebel negotiator said May 4. "An agreement occurred between representatives of the rebels and the chiefs of security, in the presence of the Iranian ambassador, for the pullout of fighters from the Old City to the northern countryside of Homs," Abul Hareth al-Khalidi told AFP, adding that talks are now focused on implementation.

Around 2,250 people, mostly fighters, will evacuate the Old City area, which lies in the heart of Syria's third city Homs, according to a version of the agreement obtained by AFP from an opposition source.

Abul Harith said civilians and wounded people will also be evacuated from the battered Old City, much of which has been destroyed by near-daily bombardment and constant fighting.

Fighters will withdraw to a rebel-controlled area in the north of Homs province, according to the text.   They will be allowed to withdraw with light weapons, and one rocket launcher will be permitted on every bus used for the evacuation.  The Red Crescent, adds the text, will transport the wounded.

"The guarantors (of the deal) will be the presence of members of the United Nations and Iranian negotiators on the buses," according to the text.

The deal was reached as part of an exchange for an unknown number of Iranian and Lebanese prisoners currently held by the Islamic Front, Syria's largest rebel alliance.

"Implementation will begin after those being held by the Islamic Front are released, and after permission is given to allow relief to enter the (Shiite, pro-regime) towns of Nubol and Zahraa in Aleppo province," according to the text.