Assad sacks PM as economic crisis grows

Published June 12, 2020
“President Assad issues decree number 143 for year 2020 which relieves the prime minister Imad Muhammad Dib Khamis of his position.”  — AFP/File
“President Assad issues decree number 143 for year 2020 which relieves the prime minister Imad Muhammad Dib Khamis of his position.” — AFP/File

DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday sacked his prime minister of four years, in a move that follows weeks of deepening economic hardship and a rare outbreak of anti-Assad protests in government-held areas.

“President Assad issues decree number 143 for year 2020 which relieves the prime minister Imad Muhammad Dib Khamis of his position,” the presidency said in a statement. State media did not give a reason for the sudden decision.

Khamis, 58, had been Syria’s prime minister since 2016. He is replaced by Water Resources Minister Hussein Arnous for an interim period leading to legislative polls set for next month.

Parliamentary polls had been due in Syria earlier this year but were postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new date set last month is July 19.

Khamis’ sacking follows sharp criticism of his government over its handling of the economic crisis.

Syria’s economy has been battered by nine years of war compounded by a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, which had served as a conduit to bring dollars into government-held areas despite international sanctions.

Syria has been in the throes of an economic crisis, with the currency plunging to record lows in recent days, aggravating hardships for ordinary Syrians battered by years of war.

The country’s currency hit a record 3,000 Syrian pounds to the dollar earlier this week in an accelerating free-fall. It traded at 47 pounds at the start of the conflict.

According to Reuters, in last year alone the Syrian pound has lost over 80pc of its value, amid expanded US and European sanctions and a financial crisis in Lebanon that choked an important source of foreign currency.

The government has blamed the unofficial devaluation on US sanctions and exchange rate “manipulation”.

Syrian authorities blame Western sanctions for widespread hardship among ordinary residents, where the currency collapse has led to soaring prices and people struggling to afford food and basic supplies.

The government has criticised a wave of new, tighter US sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, which takes effect later this month which economists and politicians say will further tighten the noose around the Assad’s government. But the rapid deterioration has sparked rare criticism in government-held areas, including in the southern city of Sweida.

“Revolution, freedom, social justice,” dozens of protesters shouted, in slogans reminiscent of the 2011 uprising whose repression sparked a civil war that has killed more than 380,000 people.

Prices of some basic goods are set to increase further after US legislation known as the Caesar Act comes into effect later this month, targeting companies dealing with Damascus.

In a bid to replenish state coffers, the government last month ordered assets seized from Syrian tycoon, Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2020

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