Syria forms new government; key posts unchanged

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BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad issued a decree forming a new government Saturday, but it will be headed by a key loyalist and the foreign, defense and interior ministers kept their jobs.

The move comes as fears mounted that the conflict was aggravating regional tensions. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Saturday his country would take "necessary" action against Syria after Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military plane.

Syria's new government is headed by Riad Farid Hijab, a former agriculture minister and a loyalist member of the ruling Baath Party.

A deadly uprising has convulsed Syria for more than a year, and Assad has promised to enact political reforms. He vowed after the May 7 parliamentary elections to make the government more inclusive to politicians from other parties.

But the appointment of Hijab and the decision to keep the key posts unchanged raised questions about the commitment to that pledge.

The opposition boycotted the parliamentary elections, saying they were designed to strengthen Assad's grip on power.

Parliament is considered little more than a rubber stamp in Syria, where the president and a tight coterie of advisers hold the real power.

Activists estimate that more than 14,000 people have been killed since the start of the uprising against Assad's regime in March 2011.

In a sign of how the conflict is bleeding outside its borders, Syria said Friday it shot down a Turkish military plane that entered Syrian air space. It was the clearest and most dramatic escalation in tensions between the two countries, which used to be allies before the Syrian revolt began. Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of the Syrian regime's response to the uprising.

Gul said his country would take action against Syria but suggested that the aircraft may have unintentionally violated the Syrian airspace.

The plane, an unarmed F-4, went down in the Mediterranean Sea about eight miles (13 kilometers) away from the Syrian town of Latakia, Turkey said.

During a news conference Saturday in Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the incident showed how explosive the Syrian conflict could be for the region.

"This is a serious escalation," he said. "It is a security matter for Europe. It is a concern for the region and that is why we called for a calculated, well-drawn, democratic political transition. We do not want to see chaos in the region."

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