DAMASCUS, April 28 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of supporters of President Bashar al-Assad have staged demonstrations in support of the president, who announced earlier on Monday that he will run in the country's controversial presidential elections.
Following Assad's announcement, the supporters took to several streets and squares in the capital Damascus, the central city of Homs, the coastal city of Latakia and the southern province of Qunaitera, chanting and singing in support of Assad.
"We are here to stress our support to President Bashar al-Assad since he took to office and until (now)," said Raghad al-Khair, a pro-government demonstrator in Damascus.
Assad was nominated in 2000 by the Syrian parliament unanimously following the death of his father, former President Hafez Assad, and was re-elected in 2007 for a second term in a nationwide referendum in which he was the sole candidate.
The 2014 election is scheduled for June 3 despite the ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis in the country.
In the southern province of Qunaitera, Assad supporters, including soldiers of the National Defense Forces, flocked to the province's main square to show their support for the president.
Earlier in the day, Assad officially registered for the presidential race to run for a third seven-year term.
The announcement did not come as much of a surprise, as government officials had repeatedly said that Assad would run for the elections, and that he has high chance of winning another term in office because he maintains "popular support." They said he is the "real guarantee" for the future of Syria.
Aside from the president, several candidates are running in the race for the presidency in accordance with the new constitution. However, a new electoral law stipulates that all applicants must have lived in Syria for ten consecutive years prior to nomination, which severely limits exiled opposition members, many of whom have been living outside the country for years.
The timing of the presidential polls has riled many in the Syrian opposition, as well as their regional and international backers, who have labeled the upcoming poll a "parody of democracy. "
The Syrian government has repeatedly blasted countries that called on Assad to step down, saying such demands encroach upon Syria's sovereignty and the Syrian people's rights of self- determination.
Opposition groups inside and outside Syria have criticized the decision to hold the presidential elections amid the ongoing civil war. More than 150,000 people have been killed and one third of the population displaced in grinding clashes between government troops and armed militant groups.
They also stress that millions of Syrians fled to neighboring countries don't have access to basic necessities, let alone polling stations.
Loai Hussain, head of the opposition party Building the Syria State, said it is essential to focus on the will of all of the Syrians.
"Now more than half of the Syrians are absent from the electoral process ... We are unable to know their decision and will, but we do know that they have the right to be partners in the presidential elections, otherwise, such elections would be totally illegal," Hussain said.
He added that the real desires of Syrians could be fulfilled by postponing the elections, working to return displaced people safely to their homes, allowing freedom of speech and expression and preventing security from arbitrarily arresting citizens.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Committee for Presidential Elections said that those Syrians who have illegally left the country will not be allowed to vote in the elections.
Still political experts believe that the vast majority of those who have illegally fled the country are not expected to return, as some of them are believed to be families of opposition fighters battling to bring down the administration.