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Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee Resigns - 2004-05-13


Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has resigned after a poor showing in parliamentary elections, clearing the way for Italian-born Congress Party chief, Sonia Gandhi, to become the country's next prime minister.

Officials say Mr. Vajpayee, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), handed his resignation to President Abdul Kalam, who asked the prime minister to continue his duties until a new government is named.

Mrs. Gandhi is expected to meet with her party later today to discuss the formation of the next government. Congress Party officials say they are confident that they will be able to form a government with the help of left-leaning parties, which also made strong election gains.

Votes from India's staggered parliamentary elections are still being counted, but preliminary results indicate a strong showing by the Congress Party and its allies. Analysts say neither the opposition nor the governing coalition is likely to secure a clear majority in the 543-seat parliament.

The election saw Mrs Gandhi's son, Rahul Gandhi, winning his first parliamentary seat - from the town of Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh.

Mr. Vajpayee had called early elections, and campaigned on India's economic gains and improving ties with arch-rival Pakistan. The opposition focused on the nation's poor, and argued that the government has done little to alleviate poverty across India.

The elections were held on five different days spread over a three-week period that ended on Monday. Officials say more than 55 percent of India's 675-million eligible voters cast ballots.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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