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Assad appoints new Syria prime minister

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Former agriculture minister and ruling Baath party member Riyad Hijab entrusted with task of forming government.Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has named former agriculture minister Riyad Hijab as prime minister to form a new government, state television has reported.

Wednesday's appointment comes after a new parliament was voted in on May 7 in elections boycotted by opposition groups.

"President Assad issued a decree asking Riyad Hijab to form a new government," the broadcaster said.

Hijab replaces Adel Safar, who was appointed in April last year shortly after a popular uprising erupted in the southern province of Deraa and later spread across the country, presenting Assad with the sternest challenge to his 12-year rule.
 
A member of the ruling Baath Party, Hijab was minister in the previous cabinet.

Jihad Makdissi, Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, confirmed the report on Twitter, saying: "Dr Riyad Hijab is the new prime minister of Syria and will form the new government."

'Hardcore Baathist'

In a speech to parliament on Sunday, Assad said the new government would "take into account the new political forces" after the May election, held under a revised constitution which allowed for new political parties to be established.

A prominent dissident said that by appointing Hijab, 46, the president was snubbing demands for change.

"We expected Assad to play a game and appoint a nominal independent but he chose a hardcore Baathist," Najati Tayyara said.

"In any case the cabinet is just for show in Syria and even more so now, with the security apparatus totally taking over".

Nabil Samman, the head of the Centre for Research and Documentation in Damascus, said the appointment of Hijab was merely "an administrative process".

"Even though article 8 of the constitution [which declared the ruling Baath Party as the leader of the state and society] has been scrapped, the prime minister is a Baathist and the parliament is dominated by Baath members," he said.

"I do not expect any changes in the political scene in Syria as the sanctions continued to drain the economy and Assad declared he will resume his military campaign to crush the opposition."

Meanwhile, George Jabbour, the author of the book "Arabism and Islam in the Arab Constitutions", said from Damascus that he will only be able assess the seriousness of the government in making political changes once the whole government is formed.

"It is difficult to judge if Hijab favours democracy since he was a minister of agriculture and not - for example - a minister of information," he said.

"We must wait to see if the rest of the cabinet will be dominated by pro-reform ministers or not."


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