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Syria appoints new prime minister, confirming Russian announcement

Do the new ministerial appointments suggest Russian interference in Syria? [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 June, 2016

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Syria has appointed a new head of government as part of a number of ministerial appointments - which some speculate are evidence of further Russian interference.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday named electricity minister Imad Khamis as the new prime minister of the war-ravaged country.

Assad tasked Khamis with forming a new government, the official news agency SANA reported.

He is to submit his proposal for new ministerial appointments in the coming days.

The 54-year-old engineer replaces Wael al-Halqi, who had held the post since August 2012.

The changes come two months after Assad's Baath party and its allies won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections dismissed internationally as a sham.

Khamis had served as Syria's minister of electricity since 2011 and is an electrical engineer by trade.

Since March 2012, he has been placed under sanction by the European Union, which accuses him of sharing "responsibility for the regime's violent repression against the civilian population".

Syria's conflict began in 2011 with widespread protests demanding reform, but has since escalated into a bloody civil war that analysts estimate has left 400,000 people dead.

According to the government, production of electricity is now less than half the levels seen at the beginning of the crisis.

Russian state broadcaster Russia Today leaked the names of several new ministers last week, leading many to speculate over the extent of Moscow's involvement in the decision - as usually names of new ministers in Syria are kept tightly under wraps. Many new ministers apparently heard the news of their appointment through the media.

The announcement also came shortly after the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Bashar al-Assad in Syria.  

There have also been numerous reports that suggest measures are already in place by the Syrian regime to hand over the Syrian energy sector to Russian companies, led by a law on partnership between the private sector and foreign companies issued in early 2016.

Observers believe the new government would not offer a significant difference from previous governments under Assad, although the regime may be attempting to rehabilitate the administration after some "unpopular decisions" made recently - including the decision to raise fuel prices by 40 percent.

The hike at the pumps was met with great indignation by citizens living in regime-controlled areas.  

Khamis has also come in for his fair share of criticism, during his tenure as minister of electricity in the previous two governments.

Rationing of electricity has significantly increased; while some areas of Syria receive electricity for at least 12 hours a day, other provinces remain in total blackout, leading to accusations of rampant corruption.

Syrians loyal to the regime even established several pages dedicated to insulting Khamis on social networking sites, including "The Diary of Imad Khamis", "Haters of Syrian Minister of Electricity Imad Khamis" and "Imad Khamis and the dog".

Agencies contributed to this report.

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