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Malawi's new president appoints 'reconciliation' cabinet

By AFP

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AFP) - Malawi's new president Joyce Banda on Thursday named a 23-member cabinet but gave herself several key portfolios to beef up her powers as southern Africa's first female president.

Banda, who assumed power on April 7 after the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika two days earlier, retained several veterans from the party of her predecessor, with whom she and many stalwarts had fallen out over succession plans.

The president put herself in charge of the civil service, disaster management, nutrition, HIV and AIDS. She is also commander in chief of the Malawi defence Force and the 8,000 strong Malawi police service.

Banda restored several former officials who, like herself, were thrown out of Mutharika's party, including Khumbo Kachale, who is named health minister.

Another who fell out with Mutharika, former attorney general Ralph Kasambara, will combine his old role with that of justice minister.

Mutharika had expelled Banda from his ruling party in a bitter succession battle, as he chose to groom his brother Peter as heir apparent.

Last year she formed her own People's Party and became a vocal critic of Mutharika's handling of the economy.

Ken Lipenga remains finance minister in the new cabinet while former vice president Cassim Chilumpha, accused of plotting to assassinate Mutharika in a treason trial yet to be concluded, will head minister of energy and mining.

Banda, who has stressed "reconciliation" following Mutharika's death, also named several opposition figures.

Firebrand and upcoming politician Atupele Muluzi, the son of former president Bakili Muluzi who handed over power to Mutharika in 2004 and has been campaigning vigorously for the 2014 presidential elections, was named minister of economic planning and development.

Former justice minister Ephraim Chiume is now minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, while former finance minister Ken Kandodo, a grand-nephew of Malawi's founder Kamuzu Banda, is the new defence minister.

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