Pakistan caretaker PM takes office ahead of vote

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan's caretaker prime minister was sworn into office on Monday, March 25, drawing a line under protracted political wrangling and putting the country on course for an historic election period.

Retired judge Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, 84, was selected by the election commission after a parliamentary committee and rival parties failed to agree on a candidate. He comes from the troubled southwestern province of Balochistan.

At a short ceremony presided over by President Asif Ali Zardari and broadcast live on television, Mr Khoso took the oath of office. Close Zardari associates and members of the outgoing government attended the ceremony.

Mr Khoso is now expected to pick a paired-down interim cabinet that will preside with him over the country until the victor of the May 11 general election can form a coalition government and take office.

Mr Khoso was one of two candidates nominated by the outgoing government. The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, a frontrunner to win the election, also put forward two other names.

The vote is set to mark the first time that an elected civilian government hands over to another in a country that has seen three military coups and four military rulers since partition from India in 1947.

Militant attacks and record levels of violence directed against the Shiite Muslim minority have raised fears about security for the polls in the nuclear-armed country of 180 million.

On Sunday, former military ruler Pervez Musharraf returned from more than four years in self-imposed exile, defying Taleban death threats in a bid to contest the election, although it is thought his impact will be minimal.

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