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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 September, 2003, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Syria appoints new prime minister
Bashar al-Assad
Hopes for reform were boosted when Bashar came to power
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has named a new prime minister - the first such change since he came to power on the death of his father more than three years ago.

Parliament speaker Mohammed Naji al-Otari has been asked to lead a reformist government in place of outgoing Prime Minister Mohammed Mustapha Mero.

The resignation of his cabinet had been expected since President Assad commented last month that a more-reform minded government was needed.

Mr Mero was appointed to the post shortly before the death of Hafiz al-Assad in what was seen at the time as an attempt to push economic reform.

Slow pace of reform

Mr Otari, a former head of the Engineers' Association, has been speaker since elections earlier this year.

The Syrian president said last month that pushing through reforms would be the chief task of the new cabinet he proposed to form.

He shuffled the cabinet soon after taking power following the death of his father in June 2000.

Changes were made in key economic portfolios, but the prime minister and major political figures remained in their posts.

Hopes of reform and greater openness in Syria rose when Bashar al-Assad came to power, and he launched a wide-ranging programme.

Changes which have taken place include freeing hundreds of political prisoners and allowing private universities to operate.

However, critics said Mr Mero's cabinet had been slow to put plans into action.

Also, the authorities have clamped down on activists for reform.

Profile: Mohammed Naji al-Otari
11 Sep 03  |  Middle East
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Timeline: Syria
22 Aug 03  |  Country profiles

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