Sri Lanka's new president to designate new Cabinet

Sri Lanka's new President Mahinda Rajapakse was expected to name his Cabinet within hours, his media spokesman said Tuesday, amid concerns over the future of the peace process with the Tamil Tiger rebels. Rajapakse, elected largely on his promise to take a tough approach toward Tigers, narrowly won the Nov. 17 election over former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had signed a 2002 cease-fire with the rebels and was seen as likely to try reviving stalled peace talks if he'd won the latest vote.

The rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate state for Sri Lanka's minority ethnic Tamils, who are mostly Hindus, claiming discrimination by the predominantly Buddhist majority Sinhalese. The conflict killed about 65,000 people.

The Norway-brokered cease-fire has become increasingly unstable due to sporadic outbreaks of violence that the government blames on the Tigers, who deny responsibility.

It was not immediately clear who was likely to be named to the new Cabinet.

Sri Lanka's constitution requires the president to be defense minister, with the option of choosing a deputy to look after the military's day-to-day matters.

Rajapakse's media spokesman, Chandrapala Liyanage, declined to say whether the president would appoint a deputy or handle crucial defense issues on his own.

Rajapakse on Monday swore in as prime minister the hardline Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka, who has in the past pushed for strong-arm tactics in dealing with the rebels.

Rajapakse won the election with support from a hard-line Marxist party and group of influential Buddhist monks by promising not to share political power with the Tigers, and to reject the guerrillas' demand to directly receive and distribute foreign tsunami aid in rebel strongholds, reports the AP. I.L.

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