(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Mascus june 03 (qna) - syrians began voting on tuesday in presidential election amid heightened security three years into a civil war in which tens of thousands of people have died and millions more are displaced.
polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0400 gmt). the interior ministry says there are 15.8 million eligible voters both inside and outside syria and about 9600 polling stations have been set up around the country.
however voting will only take place in government-held territory with many parts of the country either under rebel control or in areas being fought over.
president bashar al assad is running against two relatively unknown challengers - maher hajjar and hassan al nouri - who were approved by parliament to participate in the election which his international opponents have dismissed as a shame.
campaigning officially ended on monday and workers across central damascus removed banners posters and pictures of the candidates.
prime minister wael al halqi said the election was a "historic day" for syria and that a large turnout would "prove to the entire world that the syrian people have decided and are determined to make the electoral process a success".
he urged syrians to elect a president who would "achieve security and stability in the country... and step up the achievement of national reconciliation".
it is the first time in decades that more than one name has appeared on the ballot paper.
opposition fighters have warned they will try to disrupt the vote and the syrian national coalition is boycotting it.
coalition leader ahmad al-jarba described the election as "theatre written with the blood of syrians".
he accused president assad of planning to bomb and shell polling stations in order to blame the opposition. (qna)