Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Kashmiri parties agree coalition

Omar Abdullah (C) is hugged by former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad  after securing the nomination to become chief minister
Mr Abdullah (facing) is the latest leader from a political dynasty

The National Conference (NC) party is to form a new government in Indian-administered Kashmir in alliance with the Congress party.

The deal means the NC's president, Omar Abdullah, will become the new chief minister - the third generation of his family to hold the post.

Mr Abdullah negotiated the alliance with Congress after state elections failed to return an outright winner.

Between them the two parties have 45 out of the state assembly's 87 seats.

Separatists opposed to Indian rule had called for a boycott of the election.

But the turnout in many Muslim-majority constituencies was more than 50% and correspondents say that, although this was slightly less than elections in 2002, it is still being hailed as a triumph by the authorities.

The authorities argue that support for separatism is diminishing.

Anti-Indian sentiment

"It was decided that I will head the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir," Mr Abdullah told reporters in Delhi after meeting Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi.

The deal brings an end to nearly six months of federal administration that saw protests throughout the summer against Delhi's rule that left more than 50 people dead.

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

It means that at 38 years old, Mr Farooq will be the youngest chief minister Indian-administered Kashmir has ever seen.

Mr Farooq's father and grandfather were also top officials in the state and the family has long-lasting links to the Gandhi family which, like them, is also a political dynasty.

The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says that the alliance between Kashmir's premier regional party and Congress has a chequered history and goes back at least three decades.

Our correspondent says that relations between the two parties are warmer today because many people in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir valley would prefer a coalition with Congress - a secular party - to the more right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

However Mr Farooq's job will not be easy, because anti-Indian sentiment runs deep in Indian-administered Kashmir, where most people either support independence or a union with Pakistan.

Farooq Abdullah - a senior National Conference leader and Omer Farooq's father - pledged on Tuesday to work with separatists to settle the decades-old dispute.

"They should not feel alienated and should be brought into the mainstream to talk," he said.

But senior separatist leader Mirwaiz Omer Farooq dismissed the new coalition as a re-shuffle of the same faces and the same policies.

"What is to be seen is whether this government will muster courage and represent the aspirations of people here," he said.

"What we need is a policy change in Kashmir, not an administrative change."

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