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India's Gandhi, President to Hold More Talks on New Government - 2004-05-18


In India, Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi has discussed the formation of the country's new government with President Abdul Kalam. But, the widely awaited announcement that Mrs. Gandhi will become prime minister did not come.

Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi was expected to formally stake a claim to power during Tuesday's meeting with President Abdul Kalam. But she says discussions on forming a new coalition government were only preliminary.

"We shall meet the president tomorrow with all the letters of support from our coalition partners, and then we shall proceed from there," she said.

The Congress Party won an unexpected victory in India's parliamentary elections - but does not have an outright majority.

Party officials say they have the support of more than 320 lawmakers in the 545-seat legislature - a mandate to form a government. But many of them are from leftist parties - which have pledged to support a new administration from the outside rather than as part of a coalition.

Indian stock markets recovered from Monday's crash, which wiped out billions of dollars from Indian companies. The crash was triggered by fears that the Congress Party's much-needed Communist allies may block key economic reforms.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Gandhi met the president amid speculation that she wants to decline the post of prime minister. If she does take the job - the party leader - who is of Italian origin and was married to the late-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, will become India's first foreign-born leader.

Hindu nationalists held a demonstration in the Indian capital to protest a non-Indian possibly becoming prime minister.

Prominent Communist Party leader Somnath Chaterjee criticized Hindu nationalists for the campaign against Mrs. Gandhi. "The campaign of vilification, the campaign of disruption, a campaign relying on obscurantism, on the plea of a national sentiment, an attempt is being made to overrule the verdict of the people - is a despicable attempt," said Somnath Chaterjee.

Congress Party members and their allies say voters have shown they have no objection to Mrs. Gandhi's foreign origin.

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