Bashar Assad has issued a decree to form a new government under Prime Minister Hussein Arnous, the Syrian Presidency stated on Tuesday.
Assad was sworn in for a fourth seven-year term in the war-torn country in July. It was the second presidential election since the start of the decadelong civil war that has killed almost half a million people and battered the country's infrastructure. Assad, 55, was sworn in on Syria's constitution in the presence of more than 600 guests, including ministers, businesspeople, academics and journalists.
In power since 2000, his new term starts with a country still devastated by war and sliding deeper into a worsening economic crisis. Accused by European and the United States governments for most of the war’s atrocities, Assad has faced widening sanctions that also target his close aides and state institutions.
The United Nations estimates that more than 80% of Syrians live under the poverty line. The Syrian currency has been losing value, and basic services and resources are scarce or offered at exorbitant parallel market prices. Fighting has largely subsided, but parts of Syria remain out of regime control, and foreign troops and militias are deployed in different parts of the country.
Assad claimed that Syrian money stuck in Lebanese banks – which he estimated at between $40-60 billion – was a bigger challenge than the sanctions. Lebanon is facing its own economic crisis. That deprives Syria of funds, he said, and pressures the Syrian pound, now trading at around 3,000 to the dollar, compared to 47 pounds to the dollar at the start of the war.
Assad is supported by Iran and Russia, which sent troops and assistance that have propped him up throughout the war. U.N.-led talks to end the conflict have failed to make any progress.
The conflict that began in 2011 started after the regime cracked down on peaceful protests, turning the opposition against the decadeslong rule of the Assad family into an armed rebellion. Assad took over in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez, who seized power in 1970 in a bloodless military coup.
The May election had no independent monitors. Assad won 95.1% of the vote with symbolic competition from two candidates.
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