Syria elections postponed over coronavirus

Damascus (AFP) –


Syria said Saturday its parliamentary elections scheduled for next month would be postponed as part of measures to protect the war-battered country against the coronavirus epidemic.

The president's office said on its official social media accounts that the vote will be pushed back to May 20, from the original date of April 13.

In other "social distancing" steps adopted by Damascus, which has not to date reported any case of the disease, weekly Friday prayers in mosques have been suspended as well as prayer gatherings.

The polls, to be held across government-run areas, are the third such elections in Syria since the March 2011 start of its nine-year war that has killed at least 384,000 people.

Assad's forces today hold more than 70 percent of Syrian soil following Russian-backed victories against rebels and jihadists since 2015.

On Friday, the government closed schools, universities and technical colleges until April 2. Sports and cultural events have been cancelled and the smoking of shisha pipes banned.

Unlike Syria, its five neighbours -- Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey -- have all reported cases of coronavirus.

The rebel-held and densely-populated province of Idlib in northwest Syria, besieged by government forces and facing severe shortages of medical supplies and facilities, would suffer the most from an outbreak.

Local authorities have announced a week-long closure of schools and universities in Idlib, while educational centres have been shut down indefinitely in Kurdish-administered northeast Syria.