Syria's first-ever stock exchange kicks off

Syria's first-ever stock exchange formally opened on Tuesday, part of a push to encourage investment and boost the country's sluggish economy after decades of socialist-style policies. Syria has taken some steps toward liberalizing the economy since President Bashar Assad took power in 2000. He has allowed private ownership of banks and currency exchange bureaus and relaxed restrictions on imports. Under his father's 30-year rule, Syria had a rigid, state-controlled economy with widespread shortages of goods reported. Assad issued a decree establishing the bourse in 2006. But the official inauguration came only on Tuesday, more than a month after a tentative trial of the exchange. Five banks and a transportation company were listed on the exchange, and Finance Minister Mohammed al-Hussein said some 20 companies are expected to be listed by the end of 2009.