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Presidential elections Syrians’ choice to make: Foreign minister

12 March 2016 15:57



The Syrian foreign minister says it is only for Syrians to decide on the country’s future elections, adding that that issue of presidency is a “red line” for Damascus ahead of the next round of UN-brokered peace talks on Syria.

Walid al-Muallem made the remarks during a Saturday press conference in the capital after the UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said the new talks due on March 14 in Geneva would discuss the formation of a new government, a fresh constitution, as well as UN-monitored presidential and parliamentary elections within 18 months.

The Syrian top diplomat, however, said no one “has the right to discuss presidential elections. This right is exclusively for the Syrian people.”

Damascus wants the negotiations to result in the establishment of a “unity government” followed by appointment of a committee to either write a new charter or make changes to the current one.

“We will not talk to anyone who talks about the position of the presidency. … This is a red line, the property of the Syrian people,” Muallem said, advising those who nurture this idea not come to the talks. “They must abandon these delusions.”

The foreign-sponsored opposition group has repeatedly called for Assad to leave the power.

Opposition only has 24 hours

The Syrian foreign minister also stressed that the Damascus panel would leave the talks after 24 hours if the delegation of the Saudi-backed opposition coalition does not arrive by then.

The chief of syria’s so-called opposition Riad Hijab (R) gestures next to High Negotiations Committee (HNC) spokesman Salem al-Meslet during a press conference after Syrian peace talks on February 3, 2016 in Geneva. ©AFP

“Our delegation will leave for Geneva tomorrow… We will wait 24 hours and if no one is there, then we will return,” Muallem said.

The last round of UN-sponsored peace negotiations fell apart early in February after the so-called opposition, known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), left the talks amid the Syrian army’s Russian-backed gains against militants on several fronts.

The HNC entered Switzerland more than a day after the government, and waited for another two days to go to the UN headquarters.

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