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Ongoing violence plagues Syria constitution referendum (VIDEO)

Activists in Syria say dozens more people have been killed across the country, as the government hailed high voter turnout in its referendum on a new constitution.

Syria constitution 2012 2 27Enlarge
Syrian flags are waved as people take to the streets after voting on a new constitution that could end five decades of single-party domination, in the capital Damascus, on February 26, 2012, although the opposition has called a boycott as the regime's bloody crackdown shows no sign of easing. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Activists in Syria say dozens more people have been killed across the country, as the government held a referendum on a new constitution, Agence France Presse reported.

At least 34 civilians and 23 government forces died, mainly in the restive city of Homs, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

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Syrian state television reported that voting was extended for three hours in some areas, until 10 p.m. local time, due to a large voter turnout.

Western media reports said most voting took place in the two main cities, Damascus and Aleppo, which have seen the least violence in an anti-government uprising which began almost a year ago.

Radio France Internationale correspondent Talal el Atrache, in the capital Damascus, said there was a medium turnout in the main cities, and that many who voted did so in the hope it would lead to greater stability.

“I spoke to many Syrians who voted because they fear chaos and civil war. Many believe this referendum is a step towards democratic reform and multi-party elections.”

RFI reported that voting was not held in Homs, and other areas experiencing ongoing violence, or that were under control of the Syria Free Army.

It is understood that results from the vote on the draft constitution – which ends the legal basis for the ruling Baath party's one-party rule, but leaves significant powers in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad – are expected to be announced later today.

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The opposition called for a boycott of the poll, with several western nations criticizing the credibility of the vote.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the west was being "cynical" over the situation in Syria, and again defended the joint China-Russia veto of two UN Security Council draft resolutions condemning the country's crackdown on protesters, AFP reported.

As Syrians went to the polls, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a message to yesterday beseeching them to abandon the regime. “The longer you support the regime’s campaign of violence against your brothers and sisters, the more it will stain your honor," Clinton said. "If you refuse, however, to prop up the regime or take part in attacks on your fellow citizens, your countrymen and women will hail you as heroes," the Associated Press reported.

China Daily, the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, said criticism of the referendum from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was "totally unacceptable," Reuters reported.

"The United States' motive in parading as a 'protector' of the Arab peoples is not difficult to imagine. The problem is, what moral basis does it have for this patronizing and egotistical super-arrogance and self-confidence?" the paper wrote.

The European Union also extended sanctions against the Syrian government on Monday, with new limits on the central bank, commercial flights, financial transactions of top regime members, and the sale of precious metals and diamonds, the AP said.

Below is a video of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad voting in Damascus.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/120227/syria-deaths-constitution-referendum-high-turnout