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Syria Reshuffles Gov't amid Pressures
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has reshuffled the government in a bid to ease mounting pressures both on the international and domestic arena, analysts Sunday said in Damascus.

Assad changed 14 posts in Syrian cabinet, including key foreign and interior ministers, after naming former Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara vice president of the republic.

"Shara will be responsible for executing foreign and media policy under the directions of the president," said a presidential decree issued by Assad on Saturday.

Shara, who has been a foreign minister since 1984, was a hardliner and tough negotiator.

He was named the vice president on Saturday to replace Abdul Halim Khaddam, who was branded as a traitor after he publicly accused Damascus of being involved in the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafik Hariri a year ago.

Syria has two vice president positions, which has been left vacant since last June, when the other vice president, Mohammed Zouhair Mashareqa, retired from his post.

Meanwhile, Assad named Shara's former deputy Walid al-Muallem, a veteran diplomat who had been ambassador to the United States for a decade during the 1990s, the new foreign minister.

In addition, Syria's UN envoy Faisal Mekdad was named deputy foreign minister while senior security officer Bassam Abdel Majeed was named new interior minister to succeed the late general Ghazi Kanaan, whom the authorities said committed suicide last year.

"Shara's appointment, the biggest change in the reshuffle, indicates an obvious change in Syria's foreign policy," political analyst Imad Sara told Xinhua.

"A new interior minister shows the intention of a continued control of the security branch in a bid to maintain internal stability and prevent disturbances and riots in a complex and sensitive situation," he added.

Syria has been under mounting international pressure since the killing of Lebanese ex-premier Rafik Hariri last February, which was blamed on Damascus by many Lebanese.

Although denying any involvement in the murder, Damascus was forced to withdraw its troops from its tiny neighbor last April.

A UN investigation commission led by former chief Detlev Mehlis accused senior Syrian officials of being involved in Hariri's killing and the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1636 demanding full Syrian cooperation or it will face further action.

Shara, accused of misleading the commission and providing false testimony, was wanted for questioning in the investigation.

Damascus, long time on a US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, was also facing constant accusation from Washington of failing to stop anti-US militants from crossing into Iraq.

Among other major changes in the cabinet, six posts related to the economic sphere such as key posts of finance minister and economy and trade minister remained unchanged.

"The readjustment in the strategic ministries of oil, electricity, transport and telecommunication shows that the authorities was resolved to expedite the economic development to deal with severe challenges," said a diplomat here, who asked not to be named.

Assad carried out a reform and modernization process since 2000, which was, however, criticized as slow-paced as economic development still lacks momentum and unemployment rate lingers at 20 percent.

"The reshuffle shows Assad's resolve to isolate the old guards who impede his reform efforts both in the political and economic process," analyst Sara said.

(Xinhua News Agency February 13, 2006)

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