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Kashmiri parties in coalition bid

Omar Abdullah
Omar Abdullah is now negotiating to form a new government

The president of the National Conference party in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has emerged as the favourite to become new chief minister.

Omar Abdullah is set to meet Congress President Sonia Gandhi to discuss the formation of a new government.

Recent elections in the state concluded with the National Conference emerging as the largest party, but without an overall majority.

It is trying to hammer out a deal with other parties to form a new government.

Well short

Mr Abdullah is hotly tipped to take the post of chief minister after his father, Farooq Abdullah, said that he did not want the job, adding that it required the energy of a younger man.

BREAKDOWN OF THE SEATS
National Conference: 28 seats
People's Democratic Party: 21 seats
Congress Party: 17 seats
Bharatiya Janata Party: 11 seats

"The time has now come. I will recommend to the party that it should consider Omar Abdullah for the chief minister's post," Farooq Abdullah said.

Correspondents say that because no clear winner emerged from staggered state elections after counting finally ended on Sunday, a period of uncertainty is expected in the disputed region until a coalition is cobbled together.

The National Conference - the largest pro-Indian party in Indian-administered Kashmir - was the biggest winner, ending with 28 seats, but still well short of a majority, according to official figures.

The party now wants to enter into an alliance with India's ruling Congress party, which won 17 seats.

"We are open to an alliance with Congress," Omar Abdullah told reporters.

Correspondents say that the turnout in many Muslim-majority constituencies was more than 50%, slightly less than elections in 2002, but still hailed as a triumph by the authorities, who argue that support for separatism is diminishing.

In recent months there have been huge pro-independence demonstrations in Kashmir which were met with force by the security forces, leaving many dead.

Dozens of separatist leaders were detained to prevent them leading protests against the poll.

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