Opposition groups inside and outside Syria called today for a boycott of tomorrow's parliamentary election after several days of heightened violence in the country.
The election to a 250-seat parliament is the first since the adoption of a new constitution three months ago that allows the establishment of political parties which can run against President Bashar Assad's Ba'ath Party and limits the president to two seven-year terms in office.
The government says the vote is evidence that it is serious about political reform and willing to make concessions to the "legitimate concerns" of peaceful protesters in contrast to illegitimate attempts to overthrow it by armed force.
Organisers said that the 10 parties of the National Progressive Front coalition would compete against 11 new parties in the poll.
But anti-government activists said that the government was only making election preparations in areas deemed loyal to the president.
Election agents in the southern town of Dael were prevented from putting up posters for candidates by residents who posted photos of 20 people who were reportedly killed by government troops on the walls instead.
"They are our candidates for parliament," a local activist said.
And critics argued that the vote would take place "under the threat of guns."
Security forces killed four students on Thursday in a raid on a university campus which prompted large protests on Friday that troops dispersed, killing a 16-year-old boy.
An explosion at a car wash in Aleppo yesterday that killed five was blamed on opposition fighters.