Syrian premier quits, re-appointed as caretaker

Otari to form new government in coming days

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Syrian President Bahsar al-Assad appointed Naji al-Otari, head of the government that resigned on Tuesday, as the new caretaker prime minister, the official news agency said on Tuesday.

"President Bashar al-Assad today accepted the resignation of the government of Mohammed Naji Otri and designated it to act in a caretaker capacity pending the formation of a new cabinet," state-run news agency SANA said.

The government has little power in Syria, where power is concentrated in the hand of Assad, his family and the security apparatus.

The next government, expected to be formed in the coming days, will face the task of implementing a string of reforms promised by the state after protests demanding more freedoms erupted in the Baath-ruled country mid-March.

The reforms are expected to include the end of emergency rule, in place since the Baath party came to power in 1963, and the liberalization of laws on media and political parties.

Otri formed his government in 2003. It was re-shuffled several times, most recently in April 2009.

The president, who rose to power after the death of his father Hafez al-Assad in 2000, will address his people in the coming days and is expected to announce the end of emergency rule.

The Syria protests have turned increasingly violent in recent days, with authorities accusing fundamentalists and "armed gangs" of aiming to incite unrest in the country.

Small demonstrations demanding "freedom" also surfaced in the capital Damascus earlier this month, but were immediately quelled by security forces.

Protests demanding change have largely centered in the southern governorate of Daraa, a tribal region at the Jordanian border, and the northern port city of Latakia.

Activists say more than 130 people have been killed and scores injured in clashes with security forces at the Daraa and Latakia rallies. Officials have put the death toll at around 30.

President Bashar al-Assad today accepted the resignation of the government of Mohammed Naji Otri and designated it to act in a caretaker capacity pending the formation of a new cabinet

State-run news agency SANA

Reform package

Authorities have promised a package of reforms announced in a bid to reach out to the protest movements, including the liberalization of the country's media laws and a new law on licensing political parties.

But analysts say it is too early to say what the announcement will mean in terms of real change in the key Middle Eastern state renowned for its tight grip on security.

In Damascus, hundreds of thousands of Assad supporters turned out for a massive rally at the Sabeh Bahrat ("Seven Fountains") square on Tuesday, in a state-organized popular show of force.

State-run Syria Television also showed footage of massive crowds gathered in other governorates on Tuesday, including Aleppo and Homs, under the headlines: "Syrians confirm their adherence to national cohesion and stability" and "Popular rallies affirm support for President Bashar al-Assad's leadership".

Syria's emergency law imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movements and authorizes the arrest of "suspects or persons who threaten security".

It also allows the interrogation of any individual and the surveillance of personal communications as well as official control of the content of newspapers and other media before publication.