Syrian Prime Minister, Cabinet Resign in Expected Step Toward Reform

Syria's prime minister resigned Wednesday along with his Cabinet, and President Bashar Assad asked the parliament speaker to form a new government, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

The resignation of Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa Miro's government after three years had been expected since last month, when Assad said the country needed a reform-minded government.

The new Cabinet is not expected to affect Syria's foreign policy, which is in the hands of the president.

The news agency said Assad designated Mohammed Naji al-Otari (search), a former regional administrator and long time member of the ruling Baath party, as the new prime minister.

Al-Otari, 59, was trained as an architect and urban planner, and had served as deputy prime minister to Miro until he became speaker after March parliamentary elections.

He ran the city council of Aleppo (search), a northern city and the country's second-largest, from 1980 to 1987, and later served as governor of the central province of Homs.

The Syrian legislature is dominated by the National Progressive Front (search), which is made up of Assad's Baath party and seven smaller parties.

Assad said last month that the government should make reform a priority.

Assad has promised to improve Syrians' lives by making the government more accountable, modernizing legislation, eliminating bureaucracy and revitalizing the economy.

Assad has launched several reforms, including allowing private universities and banks and freeing hundreds of political prisoners. But he has also clamped down on pro-reform activists.

Under Assad's late father, Hafez Assad, Syria had a totalitarian style of government, with both political life and the economy under strict control.

Hafez Assad died in June 2000 and Bashar succeeded him the following month.