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New Bolivia leader swears in Cabinet

LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Bolivia's new president swore in his new Cabinet yesterday, largely fulfilling his promise to name ministers who are independent of political parties.

While some of the new ministers once were politicians with the leftist party called Free Bolivia Movement, most of the 15 ministers named by Carlos Mesa are little-known economists and intellectuals.

Mesa created a new ministry, called Ethnic Affairs, to be led by Justo Seoane, an Indian from eastern Bolivia. He still must name a 16th minister for mining.

Mesa, who took office Friday night after deadly street protests forced former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to flee to the United States, urged the new Cabinet ministers to watch every step.

"The abyss is still close at hand, and any mistake, any lack of perspective, any stinginess can push us over that abyss," he said.

Hours before the ceremony, Mesa scrambled to assemble the Cabinet amid reports that his candidates were hesitant to drop the projects they were working on to join a government he himself said will be short-lived. Most of those candidates were not named to Mesa's Cabinet.

Sanchez de Lozada was forced out after 65 people died in rioting sparked by his unpopular plan to export natural gas. Labor leaders and Indian groups used the clashes to express their frustrations that the government has failed to improve living conditions.

After decades of rule by elite politicians far removed from the reality of their indigenous constituents, Bolivians hoped Mesa's ministers would address their concerns.

Meanwhile, piles of rocks, shattered tollbooths, and other debris from days of popular fury were still visible in the capital, La Paz. But many of the makeshift street barricades were taken down after celebrations marking Sanchez de Lozada's departure, and life began returning to normal. Vendors flooded the streets, restaurants reopened, and children prepared to return to school today.

Earlier in the day, Mesa attended a military ceremony recognizing his rise to the presidency. He called for justice for the families of riot victims, and urged Bolivians to act "without hate or vengeance, but also without forgetting."

Foes of Sanchez de Lozada want him returned to face trial. Evo Morales, the opposition congressman who has championed the cause of Bolivian coca leaf farmers, accused the former president and his ministers of "economic genocide" and said Sanchez de Lozada should be jailed.

Morales supported Mesa, but indigenous leader Felipe Quispe warned of new protests within 90 days if Mesa does not institute policies meant to help Bolivia's native peasant population.

"There will be more blood, more fighting, more rebellions," Quispe, also a congressman, told Radio Panamericana.

Sanchez de Lozada had hoped to tap the country's expansive natural gas reserves for export to Mexico and the United States via Chile to boost economic growth.

But many Bolivians openly distrust Chile, which won a 19th-century war and cut Bolivia off from the Pacific.

Mesa, a 50-year-old journalist and historian who is a relative newcomer to politics, faces the task of reuniting South America's poorest country, where the divide between the rich and poor widened under the free-market economic policies of Sanchez de Lozada. Unemployment is at 12 percent and many Bolivians earn around $2 a day.

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