Maldives leader appoints niece as foreign minister

Maldives leader appoints niece as foreign minister
Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen (R) and Vice-President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed (L) stand at attention during their swearing in ceremony in Male on November 17, 2013

MALE, Maldives - The new leader of the Maldives has appointed the daughter of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom as foreign minister, an official said Tuesday, underscoring the family's renewed influence in the country.

President Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of Gayoom who ruled for 30 years till 2008, named Dhunya Maumoon, 43, to the post in his first appointments Sunday before forming a full cabinet later, the official said.

"The foreign ministry is crucial for the Maldives given the country needs to rebuild its international image after nearly two years of political unrest," said the senior administration official, asking not to be named.

The election of Yameen, 54, in Saturday's run-off election ended nearly two years of turmoil in the honeymoon islands.

The official said the new president was considering requests from his coalition partners to fill more cabinet positions.

Minister Maumoon, Yameen's niece, was deputy foreign minister in the government of Mohamed Waheed, who took power after his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed was toppled in what he called a coup in February 2012.

Yameen retained as defence minister Mohamed Nazim, a former army officer accused of involvement in the alleged coup to oust Nasheed.

"We will maintain good-neighbourly relations with regional countries and others," Yameen said soon after his inauguration Sunday. "I shall strive to make the Maldives the safest and most developed nation in the region."

The United States and regional superpower India were among the first to congratulate Yameen and said they looked forward to working closely with him.

Nasheed, a former pro-democracy campaigner and climate change activist, saw his rivals unite to keep him out of power after his first-round victory on November 9.

He became the first democratically elected president in 2008 when he defeated Gayoom in a run-off.

Nasheed conceded defeat after a bitterly fought battle and said he was pleased the country finally had a democratically elected leader.

After an annulled election result and two cancelled polls, foreign diplomats had increasingly come to view the delays as politically inspired.

Western diplomats had threatened the atoll nation with international isolation unless the Maldives allowed its people to freely elect a leader.

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