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Syrians express opposition to Russian plan to end conflict

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Damascus: A Russian proposal to end Syria’s conflict that would include early presidential elections faced opposition from both sides today, as deep divisions remained over the fate of President Bashar Assad.

Syrian legislator Sharif Shehadeh, a member of the ruling Baath party, told The Associated Press there will be no presidential vote before Assad’s latest term ends in 2021. He added that parliamentary elections are an internal Syrian affair and that it was still too early to hold them.

His comments came a day after Russia circulated a document on ending Syria’s conflict that calls for drafting a new constitution within 18 months. The charter would be put to a popular referendum and then followed by an early presidential election.

Shehadeh said the proposal is not official yet. “Regarding presidential elections there will be no talk about it. The president has a term and when it ends then we can talk about it,” Shehadeh said.

Assad was elected for a third seven-year term last year in an election boycotted by the opposition and panned by its Western supporters.

Prominent Syrian opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh said Russia, which began launching airstrikes in support of Assad’s troops on Sept. 30, is an “occupation force” in Syria, adding that the opposition will not accept any role for Assad during the transition.

“We will not accept that the regime stays even for 24 hours. Bashar should be detained and put on trial,” al-Maleh, a senior member of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, said by telephone from Egypt.

The Russian document, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, makes no mention of Assad stepping down during the transition – a key opposition demand. It only mentions that “the president of Syria will not chair the constitutional commission.”

Al-Maleh said Russia wants “the current regime to stay,” adding that the Russian air campaign “will be defeated.” In New York, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters Wednesday that Britain has seen the proposal and is discussing it.

“The eight-point plan itself is not central to the discussions in Vienna but Russia is, and we want to be working very carefully and closely and continually with all of those around the Vienna table to come to agreement on how to implement the Geneva communique,” Rycroft said.