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New leader takes oath in Kashmir

Omar Abdullah
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah faces many challenges

The president of the pro-India National Conference (NC) party has been sworn in as the new chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Omar Abdullah, 38, is the disputed state's youngest ever chief minister.

His party won most seats in recent polls but fell short of an overall majority and struck a deal with the Congress party to form a government.

Indian-administered Kashmir saw months of protests against Indian rule in 2008 and Mr Abdullah faces many problems.

The elections were held in phases amid tight security. Separatists called for a boycott.

'Talks'

Monday's oath-taking ceremony in the state's winter capital, Jammu, was attended by Congress party President Sonia Gandhi.

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

Congress politician Tara Chand was sworn in as deputy chief minister.

The National Conference, the largest pro-Indian party in Indian-administered Kashmir, won 28 seats in the 87-member state assembly - still well short of a majority.

Congress, which leads the government in Delhi, won 17 seats. The two parties are equally represented in the cabinet of 10.

Accepting the oath of office, Mr Abdullah promised to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India.

He said he hoped that relations with Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir in its entirety, would improve following the Mumbai attacks.

And he said he wanted negotiations with separatists: "They must have now realised that talks are the only way forward."

Omar Abdullah comes from a famous political family in Indian-administered Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India.

Both his father and grandfather have been chief minister in the past.

Last week, his father Farooq Abdullah said he did not want the chief minister's job, adding that it required the energy of a younger man.

Hopes

The high voter turnout in the elections in spite of a boycott call by separatist groups was hailed as a triumph by the authorities, who argued that support for separatism was 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.

Besides the threat from separatists, observers say the state is also lagging behind in basic civic amenities and a lack of employment opportunities is making people restless.

People of all three regions of the state - the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley, the Hindu-majority Jammu region, and mountainous Ladakh - are pinning their hopes on the new chief minister to deliver on all the fronts, the BBC's Binoo Joshi in Jammu says.

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