DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — This week's presidential elections in Syria were democratic, transparent, and will pave the way for "stability and national agreement," an international delegation led by allies of President Bashar Assad said Wednesday.
The delegation of officials from more than 30 countries, including legislators and dignitaries from Iran, Russia and Venezuela, toured polling stations on Tuesday during Syria's first multicandidate presidential election in more than four decades.
Assad is widely expected to win the vote that took place amid a civil war that activists say has killed more than 160,000 people. The United States and the European Union, which back the rebellion against Assad, have rejected the vote.
In a final statement read Wednesday by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's Committee on National Security, the delegation blamed the U.S and its allies for "crimes committed against the Syrian people.
"These elections have happened in its constitutional time and date in a transparent democratic way," said the statement, which was released in Arabic and English.
State-run media reported that voting closed on midnight Tuesday, and said election officials had begun the process of checking the number of ballots against lists of registered voters.
Voting took place only in government-controlled areas, excluding much of northern and eastern Syria. Tens of thousands of Syrians abroad voted last week, although many of the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees across the region either abstained or were excluded by law.
Assad, 48, has ruled Syria since 2000, when he took over after the death of his father, Hafez, who ruled the country for the previous three decades. On Tuesday he faced two government-approved challengers, Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, both of whom were little known before declaring their candidacies in April.
Russian Senator Alexey Alexandrov, a member of the delegation, told reporters in Damascus that the elections assured "Assad's legitimacy and meant he could not be removed in a military operation."
"I am sure that the elections that happened in Syria were done according to all the principles of democracy and international law," said the senator, whose country, along with China, has four times vetoed U.N. Security Council sanctions on Damascus.
"It's impossible ... to remove any legitimate leader elected by the people in a military maneuver," he said.
The delegation said that for the "first time in the history of Syria" the elections had been carried out with "the participation of different opinions and political parties," and "freedom and democracy."
"These elections in Syria pave the way for a new stage of stability and national agreement in this country after more than three years of war imposed by foreign parties," it said.
"In addition, we hope that it will pave the way for the return of the displaced and the Syrian refugees to their home, and to start the stage of building this country by the Syrian people and their government."
Activists and state media meanwhile reported shelling, air raids and clashes in different parts of Syria, including shelling of the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, an Assad stronghold, where one person was killed and three were wounded.