Lebanese scuffle with Syrians voting abroad in support of Assad

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BEIRUT, May 20 (Reuters) - Scuffles erupted on Thursday between Lebanese and Syrians, who were on their way to cast votes at their embassy in Lebanon in favour of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as polling abroad began before next week's presidential election.

The voters were driving in a convoy of cars and buses, waving Syrian flags and blasting pro-Assad songs on speakers, heading to the embassy on the outskirts of Beirut, when a group of Lebanese attacked their vehicles, witnesses said.

The Lebanese smashed windows and burned their flags, snarling up traffic on the thoroughfare, the witnesses said.

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Lebanon's relations with neighbouring Syria have often be fraught in the past. Syrian forces were deployed to Lebanon in the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, ending their 29-year presence in 2005. Lebanon now hosts 1 million refugees from Syria's own civil conflict.

"They can go and vote and leave but carrying the Syrian flag here, that's not right," said one Lebanese protestor who asked not to be named. "This is provocation," he said.

Syrians abroad vote on Thursday before the May 26 election inside Syria, a vote Assad is all but certain to win.

Assad, who took power in 2000 on the death of his father who had ruled for 30 years, has regained control of most of Syria after 10 years of fighting that has devastated the country.

Syria's government says the election shows the country is functioning normally despite the war. The opposition and Western nations view it as a farce to rubber-stamp Assad's grip on power.

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Reporting by Imad Creidi; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Edmund Blair

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