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Defiant Assad sworn in for 3rd term

DAMASCUS -- With the death toll from the 40-month war in excess of 170,000 and the fighting still raging across the country, Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad was sworn in Wednesday for a third seven-year term in power.

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Assad was swept back into office in a June 3 election derided as a "farce" by the opposition and dismissed by much of the international community as illegitimate. He took the oath in a well-organized ceremony at the Presidential palace that seemed to defy international calls for his ouster ever since the outbreak of a revolt in March 2011.

The 48-year-old leader garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7 percent, according to election officials. The Supreme Constitutional Court put turnout at 73.42 percent.

Assad arrived at the hall and placed his right hand on the Quran, the Muslim holy book, and vowed to "respect the constitution and the laws and preserve the people's interests."

Wearing a dark blue suit and light blue tie, he looked relaxed and confident as he marched along with a military parade in full ceremonial attire.

Speaking to the crowd, Assad vowed to use this third term to crush "terrorism" -- what his government has collectively labeled the myriad rebel groups seeking to topple him.

"I am renewing my call to those who were misled and carried weapons against the state to surrender and hand over their arms, because we will not stop the fight against terrorism until we bring safety to every inch of the country," said Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than four decades.

The hall, decorated in sumptuous traditional inlayed Syrian wood and dominated by a large portrait of Hafez Assad, Bashar's father and the former leader of the country, echoed with thunderous applause from parliamentarians and chosen guests.

Many chanted "in our blood we sacrifice ourselves for you, Assad."

For security reasons, the location of the ceremony -- which was originally scheduled for Thursday -- was not disclosed until the last minute.

Helicopters hovered in the sky over the capital from early in the morning.

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