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Thai king swears in new cabinet

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (front C) poses for a photo with his cabinet at Government House in Bangkok on 22 December, 2008
Abhisit Vejjajiva's cabinet has some controversial faces

Thailand's king has sworn in a new cabinet, with an appeal for peace and order following months of protests.

The cabinet includes some controversial appointments by the new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The new foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, was an open supporter of anti-government protests that shut down the country's main airport last month.

Other key ministries have gone to those who defected from the old government, allowing Mr Abhisit to take power.

Mr Abhisit was selected as prime minister by parliament last month, becoming Thailand's third leader in as many months.

He managed to win power after some supporters of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by the military and remains in exile overseas, defected to side with Mr Abhisit's Democrat Party.

'Bringing back harmony'

The deeply revered 81-year-old Thai king spoke slowly and with a hoarse voice as he presided over the swearing-in ceremony.

THAI CABINET

Prime Minister: Abhisit Vejjajiva

Foreign Minister: Kasit Piromya

Finance Minister: Korn Chatikavanij
Defence Minister: Prawit Wongsuwon
Interior Minister: Chavarat Charnvirakul

"If you help each other you can give the country peace and order, and make the country get through the current situation," King Bhumibol Adulyadej said in a televised address.

After the ceremony, Mr Vejjajiva said he would heed the king's words and "bring back harmony" to Thailand.

He has pledged to ease political tension and revive the economy.

But Mr Abhisit has already come under criticism from business leaders and even some members of his own party for his cabinet appointments.

Two powerful ministries - interior and transport - have gone to the faction whose defection from the previous government swung the balance of votes in Mr Abhisit's favour.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, file pic from 17 December 2008
Mr Abhisit has pledged to ease political tension and revive Thailand's economy

That faction is led by a notoriously mercenary local politician, says the BBC correspondent in Thailand, Jonathan Head.

He adds that it is also difficult to deny deals were done with the smaller parties who joined the coalition; for example the important commerce portfolio has been given to the politically-inexperienced owner of a large massage parlour.

But the biggest controversy surrounds Mr Abhisit's choice of foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, our correspondent says.

Mr Kasit is an unapologetic supporter of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest movement, and still defends its occupation of Bangkok's international airport last month.

He is a very experienced diplomat - he was ambassador to Germany, Japan and the US - but observers have voiced concern about how his links with the PAD will influence his job as foreign minister.

Mr Kasit may, for example, find it difficult to improve ties with Cambodia, given the PAD's vitriolic attacks over the disputed temple along their common border.

One Thai newspaper accused him on Monday of displaying abysmal judgment.



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