Assad's Baath party replaces leadership, SNC premier resigns

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A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syria's President Bashar al-Assad heading the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling al-Baath party, in Damascus, on 8 July 2013. (Photo: AFP - HO-SANA)

Published Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Syria's ruling Baath party has replaced its top leadership in a surprise move, while interim Syrian rebel prime minister Ghassan Hitto announced his resignation Monday.

The Baath party's central committee published the names of 16 members of the new leadership, which included none of the party's old chiefs with the exception of Assad, who will remain secretary general.

The ruling party reshuffle was its first since 2005 and Assad urged the party to "develop" and work more closely with the people to help end the country's 27-month war, state media said.

Among the incoming party leaders are parliament chief Jihad al-Laham and Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi.

"The party must develop in step with reality on the ground, and promote a culture of dialogue and voluntary action by the people," Assad said, cited by state news agency SANA.

He added that the party needed "to put in place new... criteria for the selection of party representatives, in order for them to be able to achieve (society's) objectives."

Bassam Abu Abdullah, director of the Damascus Center for Strategic Studies, said the Baath party overhaul was the result of deep-seated party discontent.

"There has been a lot of criticism from within the base towards the leadership, which has been accused of being inflexible, both before and since the crisis," he said, of the uprising.

A second analyst noted the changes presaged a younger leadership that would be "more open to the international community".

The Baath party has been in power since March 8, 1963.

The move comes amid the ongoing conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-government protests but has become a bloody war estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people.

In Istanbul, Turkey, as the main opposition National Coalition ended a five-day meeting interim rebel premier Hitto announced his resignation, which the Coalition accepted.

Hitto quit nearly four months after his appointment and after failing to form a government.

His decision came two days after secular dissident Ahmad Assi Jarba was chosen to lead the opposition.

Jarba is seen as close to Saudi Arabia, which opposed the choice of Hitto to head the interim government in March.

Dissidents say Hitto, who is close to the opposition's Islamist ranks and who was backed by Qatar, was unable to work because of divisions within the Coalition.

In a statement, the Coalition said "it will start accepting candidacies for the post of prime minister in 10 days' time."

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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