August 31, 2008 / 4:00 PM / 11 years ago

Nepal Maoist PM expands cabinet to end power wrangle

KATHMANDU, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Nepal’s Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda expanded his cross-party cabinet on Sunday, hoping to end a power struggle that kept him from tackling a sagging economy and worsening law and order.

Prachanda was elected prime minister by an overwhelming majority of a special assembly two weeks ago but haggling between parties delayed the formation of a coalition.

He named 15 new ministers on Sunday, expanding his eight-member cabinet to 23, his office said in a statement.

Prachanda, 53, chose a leader of a key ally, the Communist UML Party, as his number two in a cross-party cabinet aimed at staving off a crisis over the first coalition since the monarchy ended.

UML member Bam Dev Gautam was named deputy prime minister and given charge of the home ministry, responsible for internal security in a nation clamouring for law and order.

The Maoists waged a decade-long civil war against the monarchy from 1996 before ending the conflict and joining the political mainstream two years ago, vowing to embrace multi-party democracy. But some still don’t trust them.

“We have to turn this doubt into confidence. That is a challenge,” Prachanda told a business meeting on Sunday.

“We can’t ignore globalisation and liberalisation but we must fit them to suit our national requirements,” he said.

His immediate challenge lies in helping more than 50,000 people displaced after a river in southeast Nepal broke a dam, swept away homes and flooded thousands of hectares of farmland.

He must also tackle an acute shortage of fuel and spiralling oil and food prices, oversee preparation of a new constitution within two years and implement a peace deal that has ended a civil war which killed more than 13,000 people.

The main challenge is the future of the more than 19,000-strong rebel army now confined to U.N.-supervised camps and return of more than 200,000 people displaced by the war to their homes. This is key to a lasting peace in Nepal.

The Maoists want to integrate the guerrillas into the national army that once tried to exterminate them. But senior military generals are known to be against what they call “politically indoctrinated” fighters joining the army.

Prachanda has already appointed Upendra Yadav, chief of the Madheshi People’s Rights Forum, as foreign minister, a move seen as intended to appease the Madheshi community dominating the country’s troubled southern plains bordering India.

At least 50 people have been killed in protests demanding autonomy in the Madheshi region since the Maoists agreed to a ceasefire in 2006. (Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Philippa Fletcher) (For the latest Reuters news on Nepal see: http://in.reuters.com, for blogs see blogs.reuters.com/in)

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