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First independent Syrian newspaper

Damascus: Syria's first private newspaper in more than 40 years is proving more popular than even its publisher expected, attracting more readers with each issue and selling out just a few hours after hitting the stands.

Ali Farzat, the cartoonist and publisher of al-Domari, or Lamplighter, said the paper's success has bypassed all expectations. Farzat printed 25,000 copies of the first edition of the newspaper in late February. When all copies were sold within hours, 25,000 more were printed. There were 75,000 copies of the fifth issue, which came out last month but Farzat said thousands of people had contacted his office asking for more copies. He said he could not find a printer with thecapacity to match the demand.

This rush for the paper comes out of people's demand for the new issues raised in it, unlike the official newspapers, Farzat told The Associated Press.

The 20-page al-Domari, the first satirical newspaper to hit the streets since a relaxation of the press law in November, carries cartoons and satirical essays that address political, economic and cultural issues. The newspaper is the only Syrian newspaper not affiliated with any political party.

"Al-Domari raises our awareness of what's going on in the country," said Sammer Al-Shawa, 23, a freelance worker. "The way it addresses issues is really different from official newspapers." Some critics contend that al-Domari has nothing new to offer. In a letter published in the fifth edition, Imad Yousef Aboud complained that the paper gives nothing but irony.

However, a letter from reader Yousef Shamma reflected the widespread popular interest in the 'Lamplighter.' "We hope to be the oil of your lantern ... and to prevent storms from puffing it out," he wrote.

Farzat is the first individual to publish a newspaper since the ruling Baath party came to power in 1963.

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