Monday, April 18, 2011

In Syria, a new government is formed

  • A former Cabinet minister is now the prime minister
  • This comes as Syria grapples with discontent
  • The government says a soldier was killed in Banias
In Syria, a new government is formed
By the CNN Wire Staff
April 14, 2011 12:09 p.m. EDT
(CNN) -- Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, has announced the formation of a new government, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported Thursday.

The prime minister is Adel Safar, a Baath Party member who was the agricultural minister in the previous Cabinet, which resigned last month.

The announcement was made as Syria is overwhelmed by anti-regime protests and clashes between demonstrators and security forces, conflict that has caused scores of deaths. The Syrian government claimed Thursday that one of its soldiers was shot dead in the city of Banias.

Syria has retained its foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, and defense minister, Ali Habib. But there are new heads in other positions, including the key ones of interior, finance, and media affairs, Syria TV said.

Opposition forces demanded the lifting of the country's emergency declaration and the end of one-party rule in Syria, among other things, as the winds of change in the Arab world whipped through Syria over the last month.

Al-Assad has made some moves intended to placate opposition activists, such as studying whether to end the 48-year-old state of emergency and providing citizenship for stateless people in the Kurdish region.

However, activists say the government has cracked down violently on peaceful protesters. That claim is disputed by the Syrian government, which blames armed groups for attacking security forces and citizenship.

CNN's Tracy Doueiry and Rima Maktabi contributed to this report

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US secretly backed Syrian opposition

Leaked cable shows that the U.S. State Department funnelled as much as $6 million since 2006 to Syrian exiles in London, 'Washington Post' says.

WikiLeaks: US secretly backed Syrian opposition
By REUTERS/reprinted at The Jerusalem Post
Monday, April 18 2011 09:06
WASHINGTON - The US State Department has secretly funded Syrian opposition groups, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

The cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million since 2006 to a group of Syrian exiles to operate a London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, and finance activities inside Syria, the Post said.

Barada TV began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria that began last month as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad the Post said.

The US money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after political ties with Damascus were frozen in 2005, the newspaper said.

The financial backing has continued under US President Barack Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad, the Post said. In January, the White House posted an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years.

The article said it is unclear whether the United States was still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010.

An uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule have spread across large parts of the country. Rights groups put the death toll at more than 200 people. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs.

The previously undisclosed cables show that US Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian intelligence agents were raising questions about US programs, The Washington Post said.

An April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking US diplomat in Damascus at the time read Syrian authorities "would undoubtedly view any US funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change," the Postreported.

"A reassessment of current US-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive," the cable said.

The Post said the State Department declined to comment on the authenticity of the cables or answer questions about its funding of Barada TV.

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