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Syria's Assad names new PM

A new Syria PM was announced as tanks pound rebels near the Mediterranean coast.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Picture: AFP
Bashar al Assad,Syria unrest,syria revolt,Syria massacre,Syria elections
World

BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad named a Baath Party stalwart to form a new government on Wednesday, signalling no political concessions to a 15-month-old uprising, as helicopters and tanks pounded rebels near the Mediterranean coast.

The appointment of Riyad Hijab, agriculture minister in the outgoing government, as prime minister follows a parliamentary election last month which authorities said was a step towards political reform but which opponents dismissed as a sham.

"We expected Assad to play a game and appoint a nominal independent but he chose a hardcore Baathist," said opposition campaigner Najati Tayyara. The new government, like its predecessors, would wield no real power, he added.

"The cabinet is just for show in Syria and even more so now, with the security apparatus totally taking over."

Activists said army helicopters and tanks attacked rebel positions in the coastal province of Latakia for a second day on Wednesday, in the heaviest clashes there since the revolt against Assad erupted in March last year.

The relentless violence has shredded an eight-week-old ceasefire deal brokered by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan. Rebels, who say they are no longer bound by the accord, have killed 100 soldiers this week, according to one monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russia called for a broad international meeting, including regional powers Turkey and Iran, the Arab League, European Union and major U.N. Security Council members, to rescue Annan's plan.

The British-based Observatory said rebels seized control of police and intelligence buildings in the Latakia town of Selma overnight, before army reinforcements arrived at dawn.

The soldiers killed a rebel captain in Selma and six civilians in Haffeh, a mostly Sunni Muslim area where clashes have been most intense, it said.

Local activists provided shaky footage of a Syrian helicopter firing rockets. A member of the rebel Free Syrian Army in Latakia said its lightly-armed fighters faced shellfire.

"There was heavy fighting all night. In the morning, Syrian forces started shelling Selma and Haffeh," the FSA's Ali al-Raidi told Reuters by telephone.

Syria heavily restricts access to international media organisations, which Damascus says have contributed to inciting violence, making it hard to verify reports from either side.

More than 35 people were reported killed on Tuesday and Assad's forces also suffered heavy casualties with at least 26 soldiers killed, many in ambushes by insurgents.

The clashes were a rare surge of violence in Latakia province, home to several towns inhabited by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, which has been generally hostile to the mostly Sunni-led uprising.

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