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Assad fires his PM as public anger mounts over economic crisis

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President Bashar al-Assad is again facing street protests

President Bashar al-Assad is again facing street protests

AP

President Bashar al-Assad is again facing street protests

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday fired his prime minister, a month ahead of elections and as the economic crisis worsens and public anger rises in the territory under his control.

Mr Assad also appointed the current public works and housing minister to replace Imad Khamis, who had been the premier since 2016.

The Syrian president asked Hussein Arnous to replace Mr Khamis as interim premier until parliament elections are held in July and a new government comes in.

The surprise decision comes amid a deepening economic crisis that Mr Assad's government is grappling with while public anger has spilled over into the streets.

Such protest scenes have not been seen in government-held areas since the early days of the civil war that has ravaged the country over the past decade.

There was no explanation for the sacking of Mr Khamis, but the move appeared aimed at deflecting public anger.

In the month's time he has left in office, it remains unclear what the interim prime minister could do to try to salvage the staggering economic downturn.

The economic meltdown comes ahead of looming new US sanctions against any entity or country that does 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.

Known as the US Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, the sanctions are expected to worsen the already dire economic situation in Syria, where more than 80pc of the people live below the poverty line.

The national currency, the Syrian pound, has tumbled in recent weeks, reaching a record low to the dollar.

The pound, which traded at 47 pounds to the dollar before the 2011 uprising, plunged to more than 3,000 for a dollar this week.

Prices of basic goods have skyrocketed as merchants and the public struggle to keep up with the rising cost of living.

The latest hardships have also sparked rare protests in areas controlled by Mr Assad's government.

Hundreds of protesters in the southern Sweida province have taken to the streets in the past four days, chanting against Mr Assad, in scenes reminiscent of the early days of anti-government protests in 2011.

The US Embassy in Syria tweeted this week that Mr Assad's government is responsible for the country's economic meltdown, accusing it of squandering millions each month on a "needless war".

Washington will continue its targeted sanctions and increased economic pressure on Mr Assad's government, it said, "until there is irreversible progress on the political process," including a nationwide ceasefire.

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 people have been killed, millions displaced and large parts of the country remain outside of government control.

Irish Independent