New president of the Maldives expands his Cabinet

New president of the Maldives expands his Cabinet
Male:  The Maldives' new president expanded his Cabinet on Sunday to strengthen the coalition government that has ruled the Indian Ocean nation since the former leader's resignation last week sparked a political crisis.

Six members from four political parties were sworn in as ministers in the government led by President Mohammed Waheed Hassan.

In a speech after the swearing-in ceremony, Hassan said his government would carry forward the programs initiated by the previous government.

"That is what we have to do to recover from the problems we've had in the last couple of weeks," Hassan said.

His government would work to create an environment in which free and fair elections could be held, Hassan said.

New ministers for health, education, economic development, transport, youth affairs and sports and tourism took the oath of office in a short ceremony at the president's office in the capital, Male.

A new Attorney General for the island nation was also sworn in. Hassan had appointed ministers for defense and home affairs earlier in the week.

Presidential Spokesman Masood Imad said some slots in the Cabinet were being kept open in case former President Mohamed Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party changed its mind about joining the coalition government.

The Maldives has been rocked by political turmoil since Mr Nasheed resigned on Tuesday and was replaced by Mr Hassan, who had been his vice president. Mr Nasheed claims he was ousted in a coup, a charge the new president denies.

A senior U.S. diplomat who met with Maldivian leaders on Saturday said the country wasn't ready for early elections as a way out of its political crisis.

"The police, election commission and judiciary are not sufficiently prepared to ensure free and fair elections," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said after talks in Male.

Political unrest, simmering for the last few months, escalated after a senior judge was arrested by the government on charges of political bias. Mr Nasheed resigned when police and army soldiers joined the protests against his rule.

The new government insists Mr Nasheed stepped down voluntarily, and although police have issued an arrest warrant against the former leader, there has been no move to arrest Mr Nasheed.

Mr Hassan says he intends to strengthen the coalition to help restore stability ahead of presidential elections due next year.

Tourism is the main industry in the Maldives, a chain of nearly 1,200 islands off southern India blessed with sandy beaches and coral. Most resorts are located near the beaches and remained mostly untouched by the protests in Male and the southernmost atoll, Addu.

Story First Published: February 12, 2012 14:28 IST

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