DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria proclaimed its unity Monday behind Bashar Assad, the son of the late President Hafez Assad who has taken a significant step toward becoming the next president of Syria and fulfilling his father's dream.

On Sunday, the second day of a crucial conference, the ruling Baath party unanimously voted Bashar Assad as its boss — a position typically held by the president and last held by his father.

The conference, which resumed Monday, was expected to formally nominate Bashar Assad as president. Then the people's Assembly, or parliament, would meet Saturday to endorse the nomination and set a date for a presidential referendum.

In nominating Bashar Assad as party leader Sunday, conference chairman and Baath stalwart Abdullah Al-Ahmar told some 1,000 party delegates that the young Assad had "a natural readiness for leadership, impeccable manners and concern with public issues."

Al-Ahmar said Bashar Assad also had the popular support, citing the street demonstrations in support of his future leadership that swept the country after Assad's death June 10 of a heart attack.

Al-Ahmar's nomination address was interrupted by a standing ovation from the delegates, who shouted "we sacrifice our souls and blood for you, Bashar."

The delegates then voted by a show of hand, which Al-Ahmar declared to be unanimous, in favor of the nomination.

Bashar Assad, who sat in the front row in a marble-and-glass conference hall south of Damascus, stood up, turned to the delegates smiling and waved to them, first with a clenched right fist and later with both hands. Their thunderous applause and vows of loyalty continued for several minutes.

News of Bashar Assad's election and photographs of the delegates' standing ovation dominated the front pages of the country's three main dailies Monday.

Al-Baath, the party's mouthpiece, said Assad's election dashed the hopes of those who tried to undermine Syria's unity.