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Assad reshuffles Syrian government

DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad Saturday reshuffled his government that includes 12 ministries and appointed Farouk Sharaa as his new vice president.

The reshuffle included the ministries of interior, foreign affairs, information and culture, while he retained Prime Minister Naji Etri in his position.

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A presidential decree named Assistant Foreign Minister Walid Muallem as foreign minister, two hours after a separate decree named Sharaa, foreign minister for more than a decade, as vice president for political and information affairs.

Sharaa, 63, fills the post of former Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who recently defected and accused the Damascus regime of suppressing freedoms and involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a massive explosion in Beirut in February last year.

Syria has denied the accusations.

Gen. Bassam Abdul Majeed was named interior minister, filling the post left behind by Ghazi Kanaan, who committed suicide in his office at the ministry last October amid a U.N.-appointed investigation into Syria's involvement in Hariri's assassination.

Assad also named ambassador to Spain, Mohsen Bilal, as information minister, replacing Mehdi Dakhlallah, while the culture portfolio went to Syria's ambassador to Oman, Riyadh Naasan Agha.

Officials said Assad wanted a team of technocrats as the country embarks on its new five-year development plan.

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