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Five women in new Bangladeshi cabinet

January 08, 2009

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DHAKA, Jan 7: Bangladesh’s newly sworn-in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has unveiled her cabinet team, appointing women for the first time to head the home and foreign ministries.

The 31-member cabinet comprises five women in total, including the 61-year-old prime minister herself, who is taking office of the impoverished country for the second time.

The Awami League leader was premier for five years from 1996.

Dipu Moni, a doctor and first-time MP who was active in the party’s women’s wing, was named the country’s first female foreign minister while Sahara Khatan, a lawyer, was given the home ministry portfolio.

Motia Chowdhury returned to the agriculture ministry she headed in Sheikh Hasina’s previous administration, while Munnujan Sufian, a newcomer to politics, was made a state minister.

Ties with neighbours

The new foreign minister pledged on Wednesday to increase cooperation among Bangladesh’s neighbours in tackling rising militancy in the region.

The party of Foreign Minister Moni — which came to power in the country’s first elections in seven years – included a plan to form an effective regional body to fight terrorism in its campaign promises.

“Militancy and terrorism are not confined to geographical boundaries, that’s why we must take effective steps to fight them in consultations with our neighbouring countries,” Moni told reporters at her office.

“We will do that because we want to establish peace and stability in the entire region.”

Populous and impoverished, South Asia has been plagued by religious militancy as well as terrorism. The region is home to a fifth of the world’s population, and 40 per cent of its poor.

The problem is exacerbated by deep mistrust among many of the region’s countries, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.

The neighbours often blame one another for supporting radical religious groups or insurgents.

The prime minister has appointed herself in charge of energy, defence, religion, women and works portfolios.

Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League won a clear majority in the Dec 29 vote, picking up 230 out of a possible 300 seats, but she has given two positions to coalition party members.

Some media commentators said the move signalled that she wanted to offer a fresh start to a political system that has been frequently paralysed in the past for confrontational relations between the opposition and the government.—Agencies