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Syrians outside country jam embassies to support Assad

Many abstain or are excluded from early voting

YARZE, Lebanon — Tens of thousands of supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad voted Wednesday at embassies abroad, clogging entrances to the Lebanese capital for hours and clashing with soldiers overwhelmed by their numbers a week before national elections widely expected to give him a third seven-year term.

But reflecting the schism within Syrian society, many of the estimated 2.5 million refugees scattered across neighboring countries were excluded or abstained from the balloting, which they deem a mockery because it is being held in the middle of a civil war.

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The June 3 election is all but guaranteed to give the leader, whose family has ruled Syria for more than four decades, a new mandate to continue his campaign to crush the armed rebellion.

Backed by his Iranian allies and the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, Assad has in recent months gained the upper hand in the fighting, seizing key territory near the capital, Damascus, and the country’s center.

On Wednesday, President Obama said the United States will increase assistance to the Syrian opposition, opening the way for the likely training and possible equipping of moderate rebels fighting to oust Assad.

Nevertheless, Assad, 49, has insisted on holding elections amid the carnage, running against two little-known candidates.

He has maintained significant support among large sections of the population, particularly among Christians, Alawites, and other religious minorities.

Assad is a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, while the overwhelming majority of rebels are Sunni Muslims.

In Sweden, which has received some 30,000 Syrian asylum seekers since 2011, Syrians from opposing sides of the conflict gathered outside the embassy in Stockholm to express their views and cast their ballots.

Police stood between the two groups as emotions ran high, with pro-Assad Syrians outnumbering those opposing him.

Wednesday’s expat voting in countries as far as Brazil turned into a show of support for Assad, particularly in Lebanon, long dominated by its bigger and far more powerful neighbor.

Tens of thousands of Assad supporters flocked to cast ballots at the hilltop embassy in Yarze, a town southeast of the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The ensuing chaos snarled traffic, trapping schoolchildren in buses for hours and forcing some schools to cancel scheduled exams.

Syrian authorities have said that only those who entered Lebanon legally could vote, effectively ruling out tens of thousands of refugees — mostly opponents of Assad — who crossed through unofficial border posts for fear of authorities.

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