The Latest: Syrian opposition in Geneva lashes out at Assad

AP News
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Posted: Apr 13, 2016 3:39 PM
The Latest: Syrian opposition in Geneva lashes out at Assad

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian civil war (all times local):

10:40 p.m.

A Syrian opposition leader says President Bashar Assad is a "disease" and mist give up power for the country to heal itself.

Asaad al-Zoubi of the opposition High Negotiations Committee also insisted that Russia is "not serious" about seeing the Syrian president go.

Al-Zoubi accused Assad's government of not being "interested" in a peaceful solution, and criticized as a "farce" parliament elections held Wednesday in government-controlled parts of Syria.

He spoke to reporters after U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura resumed indirect Syria peace talks by meeting with the HNC in Geneva.

Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the talks "an opportunity .... to negotiate transition" for Syria.

Kerry says that "we strongly urge all of the combatants to give Staffan de Mistura and his team an opportunity to be able to do their work in the next hours and days in Geneva."

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9:40 p.m.

The U.N. envoy says a recent upsurge in fighting in Syria amounts to "incidents and not a bush fire" as he vowed to press ahead with efforts to reach a political transition in the war-torn country despite mixed messages about the process from the Damascus government.

Staffan de Mistura spoke to reporters after meeting with the main opposition delegation as U.N.-brokered Syria peace talks resumed in Geneva on Wednesday.

He says a fragile U.S.-Russia-engineered cease-fire is holding despite a recent "deterioration" in security in some areas.

De Mistura says he hopes to go "deeper and deeper" toward reaching a deal on political transition in Syria — his ultimate goal. He said a Syrian government delegation was expected to arrive for the talks on Friday.

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7 p.m.

The latest round of Syria peace talks has gotten underway in Geneva with U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura hosting a delegation from the main opposition group.

Envoys from the opposition High Negotiations Committee arrived on Wednesday at the U.N. office in the Swiss city for the third round of indirect "proximity" talks organized by de Mistura.

The U.N. envoy hopes to make progress toward a political transition in Syria as sought under a U.N. Security Council resolution and efforts led by Russia and the United States that paved the way for the talks to resume in February after a two-year hiatus.

A delegation from President Bashar Assad's government is expected to arrive later this week, amid delays over the holding of parliament elections in government-controlled parts of Syria.

Proximity talks involve de Mistura meeting separately with the two delegations in hopes of ending the five-year war.

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6:30 p.m.

The Syrian government says it is extending voting in parliamentary elections by five hours, citing heavy turnout.

Polls had been scheduled to close at 7 p.m. on Wednesday but Syrian state TV says they'll remain open until midnight because turnout is high. Results are expected Thursday.

The voting is taking place only in government-controlled parts of the country. Parliament elections in Syria are held every four years. Damascus says the vote is constitutional and separate from peace talks in Geneva.

Members of the opposition have denounced the process, which is taking place amid a raging civil war, and have called for a boycott.

Around 3,500 government-approved candidates are competing after more than 7,000 others dropped out.

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5:05 p.m.

Turkey's defense minister says Turkish retaliatory strikes against rockets and shells fired into Turkish territory from Syria have killed 362 militants and wounded 123 others so far this year.

Ismet Yilmaz spoke on Wednesday during a visit to the border town of Kilis, which has witnessed an almost daily salvo of rockets and shelling this week.

Turkey's military systematically retaliates for rockets or shells that land on Turkish territory in line with its rules of engagement.

Yilmaz says Turkish artillery units have struck 146 targets since January, adding that all of them were in Islamic State-controlled territory in northern Syria.

He says that "those who cause us harm will suffer many times more damage."

Incoming fire from Syria landed on Wednesday morning on empty land and caused no casualties. The previous day, a rain of rockets also hit Kilis, killing one person and wounding seven.

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4:10 p.m.

Germany says it won't accept the results of parliamentary elections being held by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that "holding free and fair elections is simply impossible in the current situation, with all the refugees, in a full civil war situation."

Assad's government says the vote is constitutional and separate from peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the civil war, but the opposition says it contributes to an unfavorable climate for those negotiations.

Schaefer says the German government "will not accept the elections being organized by the Assad regime, and also will not accept the results."

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4 p.m.

Syria's deputy foreign minister says the opposition has to let go of its "dream" of a transitional government, saying it would amount to a coup d'etat.

Speaking to The Associated Press in Damascus on Wednesday, Faisal Mekdad said that such an idea "will never be acceptable."

Mekdad spoke ahead of the resumption of indirect peace talks in Geneva which the U.N. envoy says will focus on a political transition.

Mekdad says division among the opposition "makes it impossible to negotiate a viable agreement."

He acknowledged that the Syrian government recently released Kevin Patrick Dawes, an American freelance photographer it was holding in detention for three years for illegally entering the country, but said the government had no information on the whereabouts of missing U.S. citizen Austin Tice.

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1:40 p.m.

The U.N. envoy for Syria will host a delegation from the main opposition group as indirect peace talks involving envoys from President Bashar Assad's government resume in Geneva.

Staffan de Mistura and members of opposition High Negotiations Committee were to speak to reporters after Wednesday's start of the third round of talks that began in February but have been suspended twice for breaks.

A government delegation is expected to arrive in coming days for the "proximity talks" in which the two sides meet separately with de Mistura, but with no face-to-face meeting between delegations.

Assad's government was holding parliamentary elections Wednesday in government-controlled areas of Syria. Critics insist the elections are illegitimate largely because the five-year war has driven millions of Syrians from their homes, leaving them unable to vote.

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1:15 p.m.

Russia's foreign minister says Syria's parliamentary elections are needed to shore up its existing state structures until peace talks pave way for a new vote.

Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday's elections are necessary to prevent a "vacuum of power" in Syria. He added that the peace talks set to restart in Geneva this week should lead to an agreement on the country's new constitution and new elections.

Russia has been a crucial ally of President Bashar Assad's government throughout the five-year civil war and launched an air campaign against insurgents last year.

Western leaders and members of the Syrian opposition have denounced the elections, which are only being held in government-controlled areas, as a sham and a provocation that undermines the Geneva peace talks.

Polling stations have been set up in 12 of Syria's 14 provinces, excluding the northern province of Raqqa, controlled by the Islamic State group, and the northwestern province of Idlib, controlled by the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front and other insurgent groups.

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1 p.m.

Britain says the Syrian government's decision to hold elections in the war-divided country shows "how divorced it is from reality."

The U.K. government said in a statement that Wednesday's elections conducted by President Bashar Assad's government are not in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for elections in Syria after an 18-month transitional process.

The statement said the elections "cannot buy back legitimacy by putting up a flimsy facade of democracy."

It noted that hundreds of thousands of people live in besieged towns and cities, and millions have fled their homes — many into exile — and thus cannot vote.

Britain also urged "the regime's backers, especially Russia" to pressure Syria's government to engage in discussion about political transition in U.N.-sponsored peace talks resuming Wednesday in Geneva.

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10:45 a.m.

Syria's President Bashar Assad has voted in parliamentary elections being held in government-controlled parts of the country.

The presidency's Facebook page said Assad and his wife Asma cast their ballots at the Assad Library in Damascus on Wednesday. He did not make any comments.

Parliamentary elections in Syria are held every four years, and Damascus says the vote is constitutional and separate from peace talks in Geneva.

Members of the opposition have denounced the process, which is taking place amid a raging civil war, and have called for a boycott.

Around 3,500 government-approved candidates are competing after more than 7,000 others dropped out. Polls close at 7 p.m. but could remain open longer if turnout is high. Results are expected Thursday.

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10:15 a.m.

A Turkish news agency says shells fired from Syria have hit southern Turkey, the fourth such cross-border incident in less than a week.

The private Dogan news agency says the shells struck two areas of the city center of Kilis Wednesday morning, triggering panic. The agency said the shells landed on empty land causing no casualties. Police were dispatched to the affected area.

Turkey's military systematically retaliates to rockets or shells that land on Turkish territory in line with its rules of engagement.

On Tuesday, Turkish artillery units fired at Islamic State group targets in Syria after a salvo of rockets hit the center of Kilis, killing one person and wounding seven others.

The wider province of Kilis borders areas in Syria that are controlled by the Islamic State group, Syrian Kurdish militia or anti-government Syrian rebels.

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9:30 a.m.

Polling stations have opened in government-held parts of Syria for the election of a new 250-member parliament.

Shortly after the stations opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) Wednesday people began turning up. Around 3,500 government-approved candidates are competing after more than 7,000 others dropped out.

Damascus says the vote, which will only be held in areas controlled by the government, is constitutional and separate from the peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the war.

But the opposition says it contributes to an unfavorable climate for negotiations amid fierce fighting that threatens an increasingly tenuous cease-fire engineered by the United States and Russia.

Western leaders and members of the opposition have denounced the process as a sham and a provocation that undermines the Geneva peace talks.