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Syria Gets New Government as Demonstrations Continue

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses the nation during a speech in Damascus, Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday appointed a former agriculture minister as the country's new prime minister and asked him to form a government -- as thousands turned out in the city of Douma for the funerals of eight protesters killed on Friday.

Abdel Safar, a member of the ruling Baath Party, replaces Mohammad Najo Otri, who quit last Tuesday along with his Cabinet following a wave of anti-government protests calling for political reform.

Human rights groups say more than 60 people have been killed by security forces since the unrest began two weeks ago. But the government has blamed the deaths and the unrest on "armed groups."

Douma, a suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus, is one of several cities which has witnessed protests against the 11-year-rule of Mr. Assad and the decades of authority of the Assad family.

Safar was dean of Damascus University's agricultural faculty until 2003 when he became a member of the Cabinet that resigned last week.

Besides naming a new government, Mr. Assad has also called for reforms including the creation of a committee to study the possibility of lifting the country's emergency law, which bans political activity not approved by the government. Abolishing the emergency law has been a key demand of the protesters.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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