US slams Syrian elections as 'a disgrace'

The United States on Tuesday denounced Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad's attempt to shore up his authority by staging presidential elections in the middle of a brutal civil war.

"Today's presidential election in Syria is a disgrace," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. "Assad has no more credibility today than he did yesterday."

Voters turned out in government-controlled areas of Syria to vote in an election seen as certain to return long-standing leader Assad to office with a mandate to continue his battle against rebel forces.

At least 162,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against Assad's rule erupted in March 2011, triggering a savage crackdown. More than half the population have fled their homes.

Washington blames the chaos on Assad's rule and has demanded he give way to a transitional government.

"Elections should be an opportunity for the people of a free society to be consulted and to play an important role in choosing their leaders," Harf said.

"Instead, such a process was inconceivable today in Syria, where the regime continued to reject the courageous calls for freedom and dignity that started more than three years ago."

Tuesday's elections had "intentionally denied millions of Syrians the right to vote," Harf said, adding the Syrian regime "continues to massacre the very electorate it purports to represent and protect."

"Detached from reality and devoid of political participation, the Assad regime's staged election today continues a 40-year family legacy of violent suppression that brutally crushes political dissent and fails to fulfil Syrians' aspirations for peace and prosperity," Harf added.