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Syrian president to face 2 rivals in election

Activists call vote a sham

BEIRUT — Syria’a embattled president will face two other candidates in the coming June presidential election, the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court announced Sunday, a vote he is widely expected to win amid the country’s raging civil war.

The court found 21 other candidates ineligible to run, court spokesman Majid Khadra said on state television. He did not elaborate.

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Bashar Assad, who is seeking a third seven-year term, will face Hassan bin Abdullah al-Nouri, a 54-year-old lawmaker from Damascus, and 43-year-old Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, a lawmaker from the northern city of Aleppo.

Opposition activists and Western countries have condemned the elections as a sham, as voting is expected to be held only in government-controlled territory.

Assad took power after the death of his father, Hafez, in 2000. Previously, they had been elected by referendums in which they were the only candidates and voters cast yes-or-no ballots.

In March, the Syrian Parliament approved an electoral law opening the door — at least in theory — to other candidates.

The new law, however, placed conditions effectively ensuring that almost no opposition figures would be able to run. It states that any candidate must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years and cannot have any other citizenship.

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No reliable statistics exist on public support for Assad. But a large number of Syrians are mistrustful of all the country’s warring parties.

The armed rebellion is dominated by Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, while Syria’s mix of Christian and Muslim minorities, including Assad’s own Alawite sect, tend to support the president, fearful of their fates should hard-line Sunni Muslims come to power.

Syria’s conflict has evolved into war with sectarian overtones that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people.

Islamic extremists, including foreign fighters and Syrian rebels who have taken up hard-line Al Qaeda-style ideologies, have played an increasingly prominent role, dampening the West’s support for the rebellion to overthrow Assad.

That has led to a backlash by Islamic brigades and more moderate rebels who launched a war against the Al Qaeda breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

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