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Syria braces for election-related violence

Clashes have continued in Syria ahead of presidential polls scheduled for Tuesday, amid fears that opposition forces will target voters
Opposition forces have warned people to not leave their homes in Aleppo (AFP)
Syria is readying for potential election-related attacks as government-held parts of the country prepare for a controversial presidential vote on Tuesday. Opposition groups in Aleppo have already issued warnings for people to stay at home, while security forces in the capital Damascus are reportedly on high alert. On Monday, a bomb-laden truck killed at least 10 people when it exploded in a village of the central Syrian province of Homs, state television said. Meanwhile, over the weekend mortar attacks on a government-held neighbourhood in Aleppo killed 50 people, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad also reportedly pounded northern neighbourhoods in Aleppo, as clashes continued throughout much of the war-torn country. In central Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also reportedly killed a 102-year-old man along with his whole family in what appeared to a sectarian attack aimed at the Alawite sect to which Assad belongs. While the elections are scheduled to take place on Tuesday, voting will only be allowed in government-held areas, with large parts of Syria unable to go to the polls. Syrian opposition forces have slammed the vote as a “farce” and a "parody of democracy”, while insisting that the election will only exacerbate divisions. Opposition candidates, most of whom are in exile abroad, were prevented from standing due to residence requirements. Instead, Assad will run-off against two other approved challengers, and is almost certain of victory. The Baath Party said in a statement that by choosing Assad, Syrians would be voting “for a leader ... who confronts the war ... for the iconic leader Bashar Assad, who has stayed at the side of his people in all corners of the homeland.” State television on Sunday also broadcast a live meeting of Sunni religious scholars who urged voters to cast their ballots for Assad, who is facing off against MP Maher Hajjar and ex-minister Hassan Nouri. Despite the concerns about legitimacy, Syrians abroad - who cast their votes in embassies across the world last week - did come out in relatively large numbers in some countries. In neighbouring Lebanon, over 100,000 people out of an eligible 500,000 voted, surprising even the Beirut embassy which thought only 70,000 would turn out. However, there were widespread complaints that the vote was skewed because Hezbollah, which is allied to Assad, was free to organise buses and rallies in favour of Assad, while the opposition lives in fear and operates in secret. The turnout was significantly lower in many Western countries though, with Syrian authorities blaming some for discouraging the vote. Lebanon is currently home to more than a million Syrian refugees, more than half of whom are children. It is believed that 160,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the more than three-year uprising against Assad’s rule.