Assad names new premier to appease reformists
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Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday appointed former agriculture minister Adel Safar (pictured) to head a new government, a move aimed at placating reformist protesters calling for widespread reforms.
AP - Syrian President Bashar Assad appointed a former agriculture minister Sunday to form a new government, part of a series of overtures toward reform as the country faces a wave of anti-government protests.
Hundreds of people were marching in Douma, a suburb of the capital Damascus, for funerals to mourn those killed in the latest round of protests, which started two weeks ago. At least 80 people have died in clashes with security forces.
Assad appointed Adel Safar, the former agriculture minister, to form the new Cabinet, Syria’s state-run television said. Safar is seen as a respectable figure in a government that many had criticized for corruption.
Assad sacked his government last week in answer to growing cries for reform in Syria, one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. On Thursday, he set up committees to look into the deaths of civilians during two weeks of unrest and replacing decades-old state of emergency laws.
Safar, 58, holds a doctorate in agricultural sciences from the French polytechnic center in France and was the dean of Damascus University’s agricultural faculty from 1997-2000. He also heads the Arab Center for Dry and Arid Areas.
The extraordinary wave of protests has proved the most serious challenge yet to the Assad family’s 40-year dynasty.
The protests were touched off by the arrest of several teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti on walls in Daraa, a drought-parched and impoverished city in the south near the border with Jordan.
Assad has blamed a “foreign conspiracy” for the unrest and offered gestures of reform that protesters say do not go far enough to satisfy their demands for real change.
Human rights groups and eyewitnesses said a campaign of arrests was continuing Sunday as Assad tries to cut off the demonstrations. Ammar Qurabi, who heads Syria’s National Organization for Human Rights, said at least 500 people were under arrest since protests began on March 18.