Syria tallies ballots from parliament elections

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By BASSEM MROUE and ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria said counting was under way Tuesday after parliamentary elections that the opposition boycotted and the U.S. described as bordering on ludicrous.

Monday's election for the 250-member parliament is unlikely to change the trajectory of the revolt in Syria, which has become a grim cycle of crackdown and reprisal. Parliament is considered a rubber stamp in a country where the president holds the real power.

Special envoy Kofi Annan is to brief the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday about the situation in the country, where about 40 U.N. observers are trying to calm the situation. U.N. officials hope to deploy a larger force of up to 300 observers.

World powers have been unable to stop the bloodshed, and a truce that was scheduled to begin April 12 has never really taken hold. The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed in 14 months of turmoil.

President Bashar Assad's regime praised Monday's election as a milestone in promised reforms and said officials were counting ballots Tuesday. But the opposition boycotted the polls and said they were designed to strengthen Assad's grip on power.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that balloting in the current atmosphere in Syria "borders on ludicrous."

"It is not really possible to hold credible elections in a climate where basic human rights are being denied to the citizens and the government is continuing to carry out daily assaults on its own citizens," he said.

Still, the elections were the first under a new constitution, adopted three months ago, that allows political parties to compete with Assad's ruling Baath Party. The new constitution also limits the president to two seven-year terms.

Assad, 46, inherited power from his father in 2000.

The Syrian government portrays the uprising as a plot by terrorists with foreign backing to weaken the country.

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Kennedy reported from Beirut.

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