Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Syrian stock market starts trade

Traders work on the floor of Damascus Stock Exchange
The stock exchange is a symbol of Syria's tentative market reforms

Trading on Syria's stock exchange has officially begun, marking a crucial step as the country liberalises its state-controlled economy.

Finance Minister Mohammed al-Hussein rang the trading bell at a launch ceremony for the long-delayed Damascus Securities Exchange.

The exchange will be open two days a week and six companies can be traded.

Syria has embarked on Chinese-style market reforms in recent years as it tries to improve its economic position.

The oil reserves the country has relied upon are dwindling and the country is looking to other sectors to boost the economy.

Since 2004, nine private-sector banks have opened and restrictions on foreign exchange transactions have been relaxed.

The exchange was opened on a trial basis last month.

An earlier stock exchange was closed down four decades ago.

"The DSE was a dream and now has become a reality despite the fears and scepticism of some," the official SANA news agency said.

The Financial Times reported that the six companies that can be traded are Banque Bemo Saudi Franci, Bank of Syria and Overseas, United Group for Publishing, Advertising and Marketing, Arab Bank-Syria, Alahlia Company for Transport, and Bank Audi-Syria.

A further four companies have applied to list.

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