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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Syria's PM appoints new cabinet
Bashar al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad's succession gave rise to hopes for reform in Syria

The Syrian Prime Minister, Mohammed Naji al-Otari, has named a new cabinet which is expected to start pushing through economic and administrative reforms, reports say.

Eleven ministers retained their original posts in the 30-member cabinet, including the Foreign Minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, and the Defence Minister, Major General Mustafa Tlas.

The Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, asked Mr Otri to form a new government eight days ago, following the resignation of the former Prime Minister, Mustapha Mero.

President Assad, who has promised to introduce more accountability in the government, said pushing through reforms would be the chief task of the new cabinet, which is dominated by members of the ruling Baath Party.

The new cabinet coincides with increasing pressure on Syria from the United States over its support for Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian militants, as well as accusations of meddling in Iraq to undermine the US-led occupation of the country.

New portfolio

President Assad shuffled the cabinet soon after taking power following the death of his father Hafez al-Assad in June 2000.

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

Syrian officials told Reuters news agency that the new appointments included Ghassan al-Rifai, who was minister of economy and foreign trade in the last government, moving to a new portfolio expanded to include domestic trade and supply.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed al-Hussein was appointed finance minister in place of Mohammed al-Atrash, and Ahmad al-Hassan, a former ambassador, replaced Adnan Omran as information minister, the officials said.

Syrian foreign ministry spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban was appointed Minister of Expatriates, the officials said.

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.




SEE ALSO:
Syria appoints new prime minister
10 Sep 03  |  Middle East
Profile: Mohammed Naji al-Otari
11 Sep 03  |  Middle East
Profile: Syria's Bashar al-Assad
15 Apr 03  |  Middle East
Fear and anger in Syria
19 Apr 03  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Syria protests against US strike
25 Jun 03  |  Middle East
Q&A: The US and Syria
03 May 03  |  Middle East
Analysis: Bashar's slow, steady start
16 Nov 00  |  Middle East
Timeline: Syria
22 Aug 03  |  Country profiles


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