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It was Syria’s first multicandidate presidential election in more than 40 years. Assad faced two government-approved challengers, Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, both of whom were little known in the country before declaring their candidacy in April.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem voted with a Syrian flag wrapped like a shawl in his first public appearance since undergoing heart surgery in March, saying: "The path toward a political solution to the crisis begins today."
A few polling stations operated in the capital’s destroyed Old City, which was recently evacuated by hundreds of rebels after a cease-fire agreement with government forces. One station was set up in the courtyard of the heavily damaged St. Mary’s Church of the Holy Belt.
"With the leadership of Bashar, my country will return to safety," said student Uday Jurusni, who voted in blood. "He is my leader and I love him."
In rebel-held territory, some residents openly derided the election.
In the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, a group of people including armed rebels expressed their hatred for Assad by dropping their shoes in a "ballot box" made of cardboard. "We will vote for him with our shoes," one man said to the cries of "Allahu akbar," or "God is great."
In opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo, residents voted to strip Assad "the killer" of his Syrian citizenship.
Activists inside Syria referred to the voting as "blood elections" for the horrific toll the country has suffered.
Ahmad Ramadan, a senior member of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, described the election as "an act of deception," while the opposition’s Western and regional allies, including the U.S., Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have called it a sham.
U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the election was a "disgrace" and "staged," adding that Assad has denied people the right to vote.
A London-based Syrian opposition figure, Muhieddine Lathkani, called the vote a "black comedy."
"This election has no value and no one will recognize it, no matter what North Korea and Iran think about it," he said, referring to some of Syria’s allies.
At the U.N., Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized Western countries that believe the election ruled out any progress on the political front.
Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue, Zeina Karam and Ryan Lucas contributed to this report from Beirut.
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