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Thai Prime Minister Names New Cabinet

Thailand's prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has named his new Cabinet.

The new Cabinet appears aimed at bolstering the Thai prime minister's ambitious program for his second, four-year term.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's new Cabinet strengthens the economic and security portfolios, as part of his plans to initiate large infrastructure projects during his second term, while addressing unrest in the south.

Mr. Thaksin was formally re-elected Wednesday by the new Thai parliament, in which his Thai Rak Thai party occupies three-fourths of the seats. The party won a landslide victory in last month's elections.

In his inaugural speech, Mr. Thaksin pledged to improve democracy in Thailand.

The Thai prime minister said he would develop democracy by supporting local leaders and civic groups that do not have hidden agendas. And he pledged to support human rights through dialogue with rights organizations.

Thai civic groups accused the prime minister during his first term of autocratic leadership, and of rolling back media freedoms and individual liberties. He was praised, however, for engineering rapid economic growth.

Among the changes in the cabinet, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai leaves the post he held during the entire first term to become a deputy prime minister, a largely inactive position. Mr. Surakiart is a candidate to become United Nations secretary-general next year.

Finance Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who last month announced he would step down, was reportedly persuaded to stay on. He is needed to press the prime minister's controversial plan to privatize some large state-owned companies.

Retired General Thammarak Isarangura, a party strongman in the northeast, takes over the defense portfolio. Mr. Thammarak was defense minister early last year, and adopted a hard-line stance, when suspected Muslim separatists raided an army base in an operation that killed four soldiers. The raid sparked a wave of violence in the south, in which more than 600 have died.

The southern unrest is expected to challenge the second Thaksin government, as fears mount that the separatist movement has begun receiving support from foreign Islamist groups.