First Published: 2003-09-10

Assad asks Otri to form new government

Syrian President accepts resignation of PM, hopes rise to accelerate economic, political reforms.


Middle East Online

By Roueida Mabardi – DAMASCUS

Otri, the sign of change?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa Miro and asked parliament speaker Mohammed Naji Otri to form a new government, the state news agency SANA said Wednesday.

"Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa Miro submitted the resignation of his government to President Assad who accepted it and charged Mohammed Naji Otri with forming a new government," SANA said.

Assad asked the outgoing government, formed in December 2001, to "quickly complete the outstanding tasks on its agenda until a new government is formed".

The resignation of the government headed by Miro had been expected since Assad's announcement in early August that a new government would soon be formed to accelerate political and economic reforms.

The announcement was made amid mounting demands by the media and from members of parliament to speed up reforms, especially of the administration and of the centralized socialist-leaning economy, in the light of the changed situation in the Middle East since the US invasion of neighboring Iraq.

Miro, 62, had been also been criticized for not outlining specific measures to counter corruption and reform the administration.

Otri, parliament speaker since March 2003, is close to Assad and one of the politicians that the young president wants at the forefront of efforts to bring change, according to Syrian sources.

One analyst, who asked not to be named, sees a willingness to "give way to competent individuals" in the new government, and not hand out portfolios on the basis of party credentials, as has been the case previously.

He said it was possible for several "independent" ministers to be appointed to the cabinet.

Otri, 59, who holds a doctorate in economics from Britain, served as deputy minister for services from 2000-2003.

At the meeting in early August of the ruling National Progressive Front, a seven-party coalition led by Baath, Assad insisted that new ministers must be chosen with "objectivity".

But one Syrian opposition said the issue was not who would head the new government but what powers he would have.

The new government "must be empowered to take important decisions" and "fight against corruption and emergency laws, put forward new rules on political parties and grant a general amnesty" for political prisoners, said Hassan Abdul Azim.

Emergency laws have applied in Syria since the Baath party came to power in 1963.

Assad succeeded his late father Hafez in July 2000 on a platform of bringing increased openness and freedom of expression and liberalizing the economy.

But hopes for swift change took a turn for the worse in the summer of 2001 when 10 intellectual opposition figures leading a nationwide debate on reforms were rounded up and imprisoned.


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