Embattled President Bashar al-Assad and his wife voted in a referendum on Sunday on a new constitution aimed at defusing 11 months of protests which have brought Syria to the brink of civil war.
Assad and wife Asma struggled to reach the voting centre at the headquarters of state-owned television and radio, as cheering employees crowded to greet them, in footage aired on Syrian television.
“Allah, Syria and Bashar only,” chanted the crowds to a beaming Assad who turned out in a navy blue suit. The blonde-haired first lady, in a black and grey suit, waved to onlookers.
The couple went together behind the booth curtain where voters are supposed to make their choices in privacy, before casting their ballots.
“The attack on us is a media assault,” he said addressing the crowds on the staircase, apparently referring to a continuous coverage by Arab satellite channels of his forces’ deadly crackdown on protests.
“It is true that media is important, but it does not beat reality,” he said.
More than 7,600 people have been killed in violence sweeping Syria since anti-regime erupted in March 2011, according to rights monitors.
Syrians were voting on Sunday on a new charter in the face of opposition calls for a boycott and deadly violence that Washington has said made the exercise “laughable.”
The new text ends the legal basis for the five-decade stranglehold on power of the ruling Baath party but leaves huge powers in the hands of the president.