Syria's Assad swears in government, urges reconstruction

AFP , Sunday 31 Aug 2014

Syrian President Bashar Assad at the presidential palace in Damascus, Sept. 8, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad swore in his new government on Sunday, saying security and reconstruction would be top priorities and urging ministers to tackle corruption.

The new government, appointed earlier this week after Assad's June re-election, takes office as the death toll in the country's conflict since March 2011 soars past 191,000.

The crippling violence has decimated the country's economy and displaced approximately half its population, including three million Syrians who have taken refugee abroad.

Assad urged the new government to "provide a new vision," state news agency SANA reported, and to avoid the "negatives of the previous stage."

He said the government's success would depend on "earning the trust of citizens through transparency and credibility," SANA said.

He acknowledged that security remained the primary concern for the country, which has been torn apart by the violence that erupted after government crackdowns on anti-Assad protesters.

"This issue is being addressed by the defence ministry and the army... At the same time, it is important to continue with national reconciliation."

The new government includes 11 new ministers, with most of the changes involving finance and the economy.

Assad selected the new cabinet after being elected in the country's first multi-candidate presidential vote earlier this year.

The vote was dismissed as a "farce" by much of the international community and the opposition and was held only in government-controlled territory.

Assad said Sunday that the country's key economic challenge was reconstruction in areas "where security has been restored" but also urged ministers to combat price-fixing and profiteering as well as corruption.

The government "must be decisive in the fight against corruption and hold the corrupt accountable," SANA quoted him as saying.

Syria's conflict has plunged half the population into poverty, according to researchers, with some 20 percent living in "abject poverty."

Unemployment stood at around 54 percent at the end of 2013, though it was as high as 65 percent in some places.

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