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Middle East
Syrian cabinet resigns amid unrest
Government resigns as part of promised reforms after two weeks of protests, outgoing PM appointed caretaker premier.
Last Modified: 29 Mar 2011 18:47

Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, has accepted the resignation of the country's government, following two weeks of anti-government protests that have gripped Syria.

"President Assad accepts the government's resignation," an announcement on state television said on Tuesday.

"Bashar al-Assad is the spine of Syria. Without him, our country will be pushed into chaos"

Abu Khodr,
pro-government supporter

Naji al-Otari, the resigning premier, has been chosen by Assad as caretaker prime minister.

The government has little power in Syria, where power is concentrated in the hand of Assad, his family and the security apparatus. Otari has been prime minister since 2003.

The 32-member cabinet will continue running the country's affairs until the formation of a new government.

A new cabinet is to be formed in 24 hours, sources have told Al Jazeera.

Assad is to address the nation on Wednesday, according to a senior official, in his first speech in two weeks of unprecedented dissent.

He is expected to elaborate on a string of reforms announced last week, amid a wave of dissent and protests demanding reform and more freedoms in the country, which has been ruled by the Baath party since 1963.

More than 60 people have died since March 18 as security forces cracked down on protesters, Human Rights Watch has said.

'Chaos'

Tuesday's announcement came as thousands of supporters of Assad poured into central Damascus in a show of support for their leader.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin says Assad is expected to name a new government in the coming days

On Tuesday, all roads leading to Sabeh Bahrat ("Seven Seas") square in the capital were cut off by police armed with batons, as the crowd raised Syrian flags and pictures of Assad.

"The people want Bashar al-Assad," they chanted in unison.

"Bashar al-Assad is the spine of Syria. Without him, our country will be pushed into chaos," said a man who identified himself as Abu Khodr.

Our correspondent said pro-government protests were also taking place in other cities.

"There are [pro-government] protesters coming from across the country. And there are protests not only here in Damascus but across the country."

Syria has been gripped by a wave of deadly dissent since mid-March which has put Assad under unprecedented pressure as protesters call for reforms.

Expected reforms

Last week, Bouthaina Shaaban, the senior adviser to the president, announced a number of reforms that would take place shortly.

"One of the key things she said was there are no red lines. Everything is up for negotiations to the president of Syria," our correspondent said.

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"The parliament has been in meetings ever since [the announcement] dealing with some of those reforms, at times asking the president's office to clarify exactly what these reforms will be.

"We do expect the parliament, potentially tonight, will announce that these reforms have been accepted. At that point the cabinet will resign as part of the reforms and potentially we could end up hearing from the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad."

Our correspondent emphasised: "the people are asking for reforms, not necessarily for the president to step down".

Tuesday's developments come after a pledge by Syrian authorities to lift the state of emergency in force since the ruling Baath party took power in 1963.

"We know the emergency law will be lifted, that is confirmed ... the question is when will that happen," our correspondent said.

Lawyers say the emergency law has been used by authorities to ban protests, justify arbitrary arrests and closed courts and give free rein to the secret police.

Last week, the state also announced other reforms, including the release of detainees and plans to form new laws on the media and licensing political parties.

Protest violence

Meanwhile, protests have grown increasingly violent across the country, with scores being killed in the recent unrest.

On Monday, security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air to disperse hundreds of protesters in Daraa, who were demanding an end to the emergency laws.

Al Jazeera's Cal Perry reports on the deadly anti-government protests in southern Daraa

They also called for the release of thousands of political prisoners and for Assad to allow freedom of speech and assembly and curb the free reign the security apparatus enjoys in the country of 22 million.

At least 61 people were killed in 10 days of anti-government protests in southern Daraa.

On Sunday, security forces were deployed to the northern city of Latakia after violent protests left at least 12 people dead.

And in Sanamin on Friday, at least 10 people were killed at a protest.

Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in Syria, but it now faces the wave of Arab revolutionary sentiment which has toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Assad, who became president after the death of his father in 2000, has been criticised by the West and even close ally Turkey, Syria's northern neighbour, for using violence against peaceful protesters.

The president has yet to respond to the demonstrations, but Farouq al-Shara, his vice-president, said the president would give an important speech shortly.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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