DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – Syrian President Bashar Assad has fired his prime minister a month ahead of elections as the economic crisis worsens and public anger rises in the territory under his control.
Assad on Thursday also appointed the current water resources minister to replace Imad Khamis, who has been the premier since 2016. The Syrian president asked Hussein Arnous to replace Khamis until parliament elections are held next month and a new government comes in.
The surprise move comes amid a deepening economic crisis that Assad’s government has been facing. Syria’s national currency is tumbling to the dollar, reaching unprecedented lows while food prices have skyrocketed.
The economic meltdown comes ahead of looming new U.S. sanctions against any entity or country that do business with the Syrian government. The new sanctions are due to take effect in the second half of June but they have shaken the already teetering economy.
The hardships have also sparked unprecedented protests in areas controlled by the Assad government. Hundreds of protesters in the southern Sweida province have taken to the streets in the last four days, decrying the rising cost of living and chanting against Assad, in scenes reminiscent of the early days of anti-government protests that erupted in 2011.
The peaceful 2011 protests were met with a brutal government crackdown and turned into a civil war that has devastated the country. More than 400,000 have been killed, millions displaced and large parts of the country remain outside of government control.
The parliamentary elections, scheduled for next month, were originally due in April. The vote has twice been delayed since because of restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus in Syria.
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