Syrian Kurds hold local elections with autonomy plans
QAMISHLI: Kurdish-led authorities held local elections on Friday in the swathes of northern Syria they seized with US help, pushing ahead with autonomy plans opposed by both Turkey and Damascus.
Kurdish forces and their political allies now hold the largest part of Syria outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad's government. They have captured vast territory from Islamic State with the support of US arms, jets and ground advisers, although Washington opposes their autonomy drive.
Kurdish leaders say their goal is to establish self-rule within Syria, not secession. But their influence has infuriated Ankara, which considers the Kurdish YPG militia to be an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has run a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
Assad has vowed to recover every inch of the country, as his territorial grip expanded rapidly over the past two years with help from Russia and Iran. Damascus has more forcefully asserted its claim to territory held by Kurdish-led forces in recent months.
Since Syria's conflict began more than six years ago, the dominant Kurdish parties have been left out of international diplomacy in line with Turkish wishes. They were excluded again from UN-led peace talks which reconvened in Geneva this week. Hadiya Yousef, a senior Kurdish politician, said the Kurdish-led administration would not be bound by decisions taken in its absence.
"We are not present in these meetings, and therefore we are developing the solution on the ground," Yousef told Reuters. Peace talks would not "arrive at solutions" so long as they do not involve those running 30 percent of the country, she added.
Voters are picking from close to 6,000 candidates for town and city councils on Friday, the second part of a three-stage process that will culminate in electing a parliament early next year.