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Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 23:52 GMT 00:52 UK
Syrian parliament backs Bashar
Syrian referendum
The referendum result came as no surprise
The Syrian parliament has proclaimed Bashar al-Assad the country's new president following a referendum in which he gained 97% of the vote.


Let everybody hear the voice of the people when it comes from the heart

Parliamentary speaker Abd-al-Qadir Qaddurah
In a special session to endorse the referendum results, members of parliament named 17 July as the day on which Bashar would be sworn in for his seven-year term and officially assume his duties as the country's first new leader in 30 years.

MPs rose to their feet in a standing ovation when the speaker declared Bashar president.

The 34-year-old Bashar has had a swift rise to power following the death last month of his father Hafez al-Assad, who ruled with absolute authority and groomed his son for succession.

Parliament also made Bashar head of the army and of the ruling Ba'ath Paty - the two pillars of the state.

Bashar al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad lacks political experience
The BBC's correspondent in the region, Barbara Plett, says the overwhelming support for Bashar reflects a consensus among the military and political elite to rally around the son of the late president, as the man best able to preserve Syria's stability.

The Syrian people were presented with Bashar as the only candidate in the referendum, and 97.2% of them endorsed his rule. Only 0.25% voted against him.

In announcing the results of the referendum, Interior Minister Mohammed Harba said Syrians had said "'Yes' to the constant path... and a promising future."

'Farce'

Shortly after the death of Hafez al-Assad, the country's power elite quickly appointed Bashar to a number of positions to ensure his smooth accession.

But Syrians and outside observers are waiting to see whether he has the qualities to lead a state with a history of vicious power struggles, to shake up an entrenched elite by introducing economic reform and easing rigid political control.

However our correspondent says that Bashar lacks the life experience of his father - a shrewd operator in regional and internal politics - and he will have to build up his power base before he can make his own mark on Syria.

Exiled opposition figures have denounced the succession as a farce that disregards the state's republican principles.

They say that Bashar is not the best candidate for the job - he was simply the only candidate, and his election would confirm the principle of a hereditary republic.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"Like so many of the recent votes and endorsements, this one was unanimous"
See also:

10 Jul 00 | Middle East
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12 Jun 00 | Middle East
12 Jun 00 | Media reports
12 Jun 00 | Middle East
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