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Assad keeps Moualem as foreign minister in new govt

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 14 Apr 2011 16:08 GMT
Author: Reuters
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AMMAN, April 14 (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad retained veteran diplomat Walid al-Moualem as foreign minister in a new cabinet he named on Thursday after a month of unprecedented pro-democracy demonstrations.

The government has little power in Syria, where the executive and judiciary have been sidelined under 48 years of monolithic Baath party rule. Power is held firmly by the Assad family and the security apparatus.

Moualem, a sophisticated Damascene, was part of the Syrian team that conducted almost ten years of peace talks with Israel that collapsed in 2000. But he holds little sway on foreign policy direction, which is decided by Assad.

Oil Minister Sufian Alao and Telecoms Minister Imad Sabouni retained their positions. Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf, who rose to mega tycoon status in Syria after Assad came to power 11 years ago, has big businesses in the two sectors.

Assad appointed intelligence operative Ibrahim al-Shaar as interior minister and Mohammad al-Jililati, head of the tiny Damascus Stock Exchange, as finance minister, according to the official government list.

Adnan Mahmoud, head of the state's official news agency, replaced Mohsen Bilal, Syria's former ambassador to Spain, as information minister.

The new government is headed by Adel Safar, a Baath Party veteran who was agriculture minister in the government of Naji al-Otari that resigned on March 29 after protests broke out in the southern city of Deraa and spread elsewhere in Syria.

Independent and opposition figures said any genuine move to lift severe restrictions on freedoms would require an effective executive branch and independent judiciary to replace a powerless government structure dominated by the Baath Party.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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