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New cabinet unveiled in Thailand

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra speaking to reporters in Hong Kong (25/12/07)
Mr Thaksin has lived in exile since the September 2006 coup

Thailand's king has sworn in a new cabinet packed with allies of Thaksin Shinawatra, the man the military ousted 16 months ago in a bloodless coup.

The powerful defence, interior, foreign affairs and finance portfolios were all given to lawmakers loyal to the former prime minister.

New PM Samak Sundaravej took on defence while Noppadon Pattama, Mr Thaksin's legal adviser, became foreign minister.

The finance portfolio went to Surapong

Suebwonglee, Mr Thaksin's ex-spokesman.

Mr Thaksin has been in self-imposed exile since the September 2006 coup and faces corruption charges in Thailand.

But his allies formed the People Power Party (PPP) and won the largest share of the vote in the first post-coup elections late last year.

The party has agreed a governing coalition with five smaller parties, paving the way for Mr Thaksin's possible return.

Defence role

King Bhumibol Adulyadej swore in the new cabinet at a short ceremony at his palace in the capital, Bangkok.

KEY APPOINTMENTS
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej (file image)
Defence Minister: PM Samak Sundaravej
Foreign Minister: Noppadon Pattama
Finance Minister:Surapong Suebwonglee
Interior Minister:Chalerm Yoobamrung

Mr Samak becomes only the third civilian to hold the position of defence minister.

The prime minister said earlier he wanted the role in order to facilitate communication with military leaders who had led the coup.

Other key posts went to top PPP leaders.

Party Secretary-General Surapong Suebwonglee, a medical doctor, was given the finance ministry, while deputy party leader Chalerm Yoobamrung took on the interior portfolio.

Noppadon Pattama, who is representing Mr Thaksin in his fight against corruption charges, was named foreign minister.

Mr Thaksin's brother-in-law, Somchai Wongawat, was named education minister.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Bangkok, says that no-one in Thailand is under any illusions that this is a cabinet of the best and the brightest, with even Mr Samak admitting that the image of the government is a little ugly.

Posts appear to have been distributed either on the basis of rewarding smaller parties for joining the coalition, or loyalty to Mr Thaksin, who is assumed to be the PPP's main financier.

No-one is sure how far the cabinet will be directed by Mr Thaksin, our correspondent adds.

Although chosen by Mr Thaksin to lead the PPP, Mr Samak is a forceful personality who may fight to get his own way as prime minister.

Whether he can hold the six-party coalition together for long is a bigger question - many Thais expect this first democratic government since the coup to be a short-lived one.



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