Bashar al-Assad has chosen a stalwart regime loyalist as the new prime minister. Meanwhile, the Saudi foreign minister has called for a Chapter 7 resolution against Damascus, which would pave the way for military force.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday named Agricultural Minister and longstanding Baath Party member Riyad Hijab as the country's new prime minister, sending a strong message that he will grant no political concessions while the government battles with a 15-month-old uprising.
"We expected Assad to play a game and appoint a nominal independent but he chose a hardcore Baathist," opposition campaigner Najati Tayyara told the news agency Reuters.
"The cabinet is just for show in Syria and even more so now, with the security apparatus totally taking over," Tayyara said.
The appointment comes after the Syrian parliamentary election last month, which authorities praised as political progress but opposition condemned as a sham.
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels and soldiers on Wednesday clashed in the coastal province of Latakia in a second day of intense fighting.
International condemnation continues
Leading members of the international community hit the Syrian regime with fresh criticism in response to the ongoing violence. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday made a plea to "all responsible countries" to subject Syria to economic sanctions.
"As friends of the Syrian people, our task is to impose maximum financial pressure on the Assad regime and its supporters, as quickly as we can and as effectively as we can, to stop their violence and to yield to conscience and to peaceful political change," Geithner said at a Friends of Syria meeting in Washington.
And France's government also poured criticism on the regime, branding it a "masquerade." French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero asserted that al-Assad "remains stubbornly deaf to the demands of his people."
Calls for armed intervention in Syria have also increased. The Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday called on the UN Security Council to apply Chapter 7 of the UN charter to UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for Syria , a move which could effectively give the green light to using military force.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also mooted the idea during a press conference with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi.
However, such a strategy is not universally supported. Russia has made it clear that it still staunchly opposes armed intervention.
"(Opposition groups) outside Syria have appealed to the world community ...to bomb the al-Assad regime, to change this regime," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said to reporters.
"This is very risky, I would even say it is a way that will bring the region to catastrophe," he added.
Lavrov instead proposed a meeting between Western and other powers, including Turkey and Iran, in a bid to save Annan's peace plan.
But the suggestion was rejected by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said it was "a little hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing the Assad regime's assault on its people." Clinton also said in a statement that the world "must continue to close off the regime's economic lifelines, expand the circle of countries vigorously implementing sanctions, and prevent the Syrian government from evading them."
Clinton's comments come as she along with representatives of 15 other countries (US, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, EU, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco) arrived in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss a solution to the Syrian crisis.
Issues that Clinton is expected to discuss at the meeting are the "essential elements of democratization" in Syria as well as strategies for ramping up pressure on the al-Assad government.
sej/slk (AFP, AP, Reuters)