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Syria launches first stock exchange

Damascus exchange part of liberalization plan

Syria launched its first stock exchange on Tuesday after three years of delay and in the midst of a worldwide financial crisis, in the latest step to liberalize the country's largely state-controlled economy.

Finance Minister Mohammed al-Hussein rang the trading bell at a formal launch ceremony for the Damascus Securities Exchange, which will be open for trading two days a week and currently includes six companies.

Although it began trial operations in late January, its official inauguration Tuesday marked the culmination of a decree issued in October 2006 by president Bashar al-Assad to establish the bourse as part of the government’s move to a market economy.

Syria, which remains under U.S. economic sanctions, gets about 20 percent of its income from oil sales and with falling oil prices and the global financial crisis will face a “very difficult year” according to a statement by Hussein last month.

The new exchange was set up as part of an economic liberalization program and freeing-up of the private sector launched when the ruling Baath party officially adopted plans for a "social market economy" in 2005.

“The DSE was a dream and now has become a reality despite the fears and skepticism of some, given the backdrop of the failures of the Arab and world stock exchanges in the wake of the current financial crisis," the official SANA news agency said last week.