Polling stations open in Syria's presidential vote

Associated Press
In this Saturday, May 31, 2014, photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad hold his portraits and wave Syrian flags during a demonstration in support of his candidacy for presidential election in the costal city of Tartous, Syria. It is Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential election in nearly half a century. But the vote on Tuesday, June 3, still has the feel of a referendum and is being touted by Assad’s government as a measuring scale for Syrians’ support of his three-year brutal military crackdown on dissent. (AP Photo/SANA)
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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Polling stations have opened in government-held areas in Syria for the country's presidential election — a vote that President Bashar Assad is widely expected to win.

Tuesday's balloting comes amid a devastating, three-year civil war that activists say has killed more than 160,000 people. It's also Syria's first multi-candidate election in more than 50 years.

The Syrian opposition and government critics have denounced the vote as a sham.

The election is taking place only in areas under government control. Much of northern and eastern Syria is in rebel hands.

Assad faces two government-approved challengers in the race, Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, both of whom were little known in Syria before declaring their candidacy for the country's top post in April.

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