Assad sets date for parliamentary elections as Annan awaits response
DAMASCUS - Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree on Tuesday setting May 7 as the date for parliamentary elections that were delayed last year, the state news agency SANA reported.
The vote is part of a raft of reforms announced by Assad in a bid to calm a year-long uprising against his regime that began with democracy protests.
Assad's announcement comes as peace envoy Kofi Annan said he was awaiting a response from the Syrian leader on "concrete proposals" which he had submitted to him in two rounds of talks in Damascus at the weekend.
"I am expecting to hear from Syrian authorities today since I left some concrete proposals for them to consider," the UN-Arab League envoy told reporters in Ankara after a meeting with the Syrian opposition.
"Once I receive their answer we will know how to react."
The elections would be the third time a legislative vote has taken place in Syria since Assad came to power in 2000.
The last parliamentary poll in 2007 saw the National Progressive Front -- a coalition led by Assad's Baath Party -- seize, as expected, the majority of the 250 seats in the assembly.
The May 7 vote was originally set to take place in September but was delayed to allow Assad to carry out reforms in the face of the revolt threatening his regime.
Despite intense international pressure to end the violence and a growing clamour for foreign intervention, Assad's regime has pushed on with its brutal crackdown on a revolt that has killed more than 8,500 people, the majority civilians, according to activists.
Annan said he had a "useful meeting" in Ankara with Syrian opposition members who "promised their full cooperation which will be necessary if we are going to succeed".
In separate comments, Ghalioun said the opposition's priority was for a peaceful resolution to the crisis despite a pledge by some countries to provide it with weapons.
"Our main objective is to reach a political and diplomatic solution. But if it fails, those countries will provide arms," he said in remarks translated from Arabic.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar had earlier indicated that they were prepared to help Syrian opposition forces.
In parliament, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the second "Friends of Syria" conference would take place in Istanbul on April 2, after the first meeting in Tunis on February 24.
Erdogan called on the international community and international organisations to "take sincere steps" for Syria where he said the "honour of mankind is being trampled".
Turkey, which had been an ally of neighbouring Syria, has been increasingly critical of the regime's crackdown has called for Assad to quit. It is also playing host to opposition groups and an increasing number of refugees fleeing the violence in their homeland.
Over 12,500 Syrians who fled their homes are currently in Turkey, according to the latest official figures from Ankara, and the number of Syrians arriving at the border is increasing every day.