New prime minister appointed in cabinet reshuflfle
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Javier Velasquez, a loyalist to President Alan Garcia's party, has been appointed as Peru's new prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle aimed at restoring the government's reputation after its handling of recent protests from indigenous groups.
AFP - President Alan Garcia on Saturday named Javier Velasquez, a party loyalist and the head of Peru's legislature, as the country's new prime minister in a cabinet shakeup.
Velasquez, 49, replaces Yehude Simon, a leftist whose reputation was tarnished by a bloody crisis in June over indigenous land rights in the Amazon rainforest that killed at least 34 people in the worst violence in nearly 20 years.
Garcia's third prime minister in three years, Velasquez is a lawyer who served as head of Peru's legislature for the 2008-2009 session.
The president also named seven new ministers, including former National Police chief Octavio Salazar to the interior ministry, and ex-cabinet minister Rafael Rey to the ministry of defense.
"The country expects order and social inclusion, and I am convinced that Velasquez's cabinet will meet those objectives," Garcia said during the new ministers' swearing-in ceremony.
Velasquez has served in various roles as a member of Garcia's ruling APRA party, but has never been a cabinet minister.
His selection marks a change of heart for Garcia, who picked the leftist Simon in 2008 with the goal of putting a "social face" on the president's free-market policies.
The cabinet shuffle suggests that Garcia wants tighter political control of the government through the end of his presidency in 2011.
Opposition politicians began criticizing Velasquez even before he took office.
"Velasquez is more of the same, he does not represent a change in the economic path that the country needs," said Congressman Fredy Otarola, spokesman for the leftist Nationalist Party, led by Ollanta Humala.
Humala, who ran against Garcia for the presidency in 2005, is a likely candidate in the 2010 elections.
The centrist Popular Action party said that Velasquez was a default choice because no independent politician would be willing to work with the APRA government.
Garcia has faced near-record disapproval figures since 2006, with his negative ratings at about 67 percent, as Peru has gone from economic strength to weakness and suffered turmoil from multiple social conflicts.
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