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The Syrian Prime Minister says today's municipal elections are an "opportunity to vote freely and democratically." But the opposition dismisses the poll as worthless. Here's more.
Prime Minister Adel Safar urges Syrians to vote in local elections on Monday to save the nation from conspiracies against it, but activists struggling to oust President Assad reject the ballot as irrelevant.
As voting began, security forces battled pro-opposition army defectors, raising fears that Syria is drifting into civil war.
Monday is the second day of the opposition's "Strike for Dignity".
Activists say security forces have tried to break the strike by force and threats.
It was unclear what turnout was like in cities such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa, where many residents have been too scared by violence to leave their homes in recent days.
Safar says the poll will give Syrians a greater say in local policy.
[Adel Safar, Syrian Prime Minister]:
"The voter now has a big role in identifying non-central policies. Voting is a responsibility and right for every Syrian citizen. A new election law means we can vote freely and democratically through full judicial control and intervention from any executive authority."
State news agency SANA reports that Syrians have flocked to polling stations.
But opposition activists say some were forced to attend by the security forces.
Assad's minority Alawite family has held power over majority Sunni Muslim Syria for four decades.
His government says the polls are part of a process of reform leading to a parliamentary election next year and constitutional reform.
But critics say the election has little significance as municipal officials have few powers in a centralised autocratic government.