Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has dismissed Prime Minister Imad Khamis, state media said, in a move that follows weeks of deepening economic woes and a rare outbreak of protests in government-held areas.
SANA news agency did not give a reason for the sudden decision, announced on Thursday in a presidential decree that named Hussein Arnous, the water resources minister, as Khamis’s successor.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the throes of an economic crisis compounded by a dollar liquidity crunch in neighbouring Lebanon.
Its currency has plunged to record lows in recent days ahead of additional United States sanctions, hitting a record 3,000 Syrian pounds to the US dollar earlier this week on the black market.
Syrian authorities blame Western sanctions for widespread hardship among working-class residents, where the currency collapse has led to soaring prices and people struggling to afford food and basic supplies.
The government has criticised the looming wave of tighter US sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, which takes effect later this month. Analysts expect the new measures will make it harder to do business with Damascus, further tightening the noose around al-Assad’s government.
Arnous, 67, has served in a long succession of government posts, including as the governor of Deir Az Zor province that borders Iraq and Quneitra province in southern Syria.
With growing public anger, hundreds of protesters in the mainly Druze-inhabited city of Sweida in southern Syria took to the streets this week protesting worsening living conditions.
In rare demonstrations in government-controlled areas that did not rise against al-Assad’s rule at the outset of Syria’s war, protesters called for the president’s overthrow.
They echoed chants at the start of pro-democracy protests in 2011 that were violently crushed by security forces and sparked the violent nine-year conflict.