Aznar brings in new faces for second term

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The Independent Online

Spain's newly sworn-in Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, introduced seven new faces yesterday into a beefed-up cabinet reflecting his emphasis on economic affairs and technological innovation.

Mr Aznar's changes, wider than expected, assemble a team - including three women - in his own image: prudent, pragmatic and centrist. They will be sworn in today. A surprise appointment is the Catalan Josep Pique as Foreign Minister. He replaces Abel Matutes who retired last week. Mr Pique, a private entrepreneur turned Industry Minister, was recently recruited to the Popular Party and is credited with crafting Mr Aznar's image as a man of the centre.

Mr Aznar's close lieutenants, Rodrigo Rato and Mariano Rajoy, become his twin deputies. Mr Rato remains economics supremo and Mr Rajoy, architect of last month's election victory, takes over control of political affairs. Jaime Mayor Oreja, author of the hard line against Basque terrorism, remains Interior Minister.

A newcomer is Ana Birules, a telecommunications expert, as head of a new Science and Technology ministry.

Mr Aznar earlier took his oath as Prime Minister for his second four-year term before King Juan Carlos. The ceremony followed a two-day investiture debate in parliament that Mr Aznar won by 202 votes to 148.

To the absolute majority of his 183 conservative Popular Party MPs were added the votes of 15 Catalan nationalists and four from a conservative coalition in the Canary islands. This support, vital for his previous minority government, is a bonus this time round, and reflects Mr Aznar's stated wish to govern largely by consensus.

The opposition is formed mainly by the Socialists - whose force was slashed to 125 MPs in the March poll - and by seven conservative Basque Nationalists whose party supported Mr Aznar's previous government.