* New prime minister was former diplomat
* President Biya under pressure from discontent over prices
* Six ministers join cabinet, three change places
(Adds other cabinet changes)
By Tansa Musa
YAOUNDE, June 30 (Reuters) - Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, facing discontent over rising prices and corruption, sacked his prime minister on Tuesday in the biggest government reshuffle in more than four years.
No reason was given for the removal of Ephraim Inoni, who had been in the midst of seeking access to more than $140 million from the International Monetary Fund to help cushion Cameroon from the effects of the global financial crisis.
New prime minister Philemon Yang, a former diplomat and senior official in the presidency, will now head the government in the oil-producing country of 19 million, central Africa’s biggest economy.
Political analysts said the reshuffle had not been completely unexpected given that the prime minister had been in place for several years and that corruption accusations against the government had intensified recently.
“We do not expect to see any major change, especially as the size of the government remains big,” said Babissakana, the head of Cameroonian investment firm Prescriptor.
“We were expecting that he would cut the government to about 30 ministers instead of the 60 or 65 for efficiency and better performance. It is disappointing.”
Six new ministers joined the cabinet while three changed their posts.
Biya has been in power for 27 years in the former French colony and is expected to stand for re-election in 2011.
He has faced discontent over rising prices and the government last week announced cuts of 25 percent in the prices of staple goods such as rice, salt and fish.
The former prime minister had been seeking the urgent release of funds from the IMF to help Cameroon deal with the impact of the global crisis, according to a letter obtained by Reuters this week.
There was no indication that his removal would have any impact on that plan.
Although the next presidential election is still some way off, Biya needs to make sure the ground is prepared. Violent anti-government protests broke out last year after a change to the constitution to let him stand for another term.
Despite a bigger gross domestic than countries such as Ghana and Senegal, Cameroon lags in sectors such as health and education and is also ranked as one of Africa’s most corrupt countries.
Additional reporting by George Fominyen in Dakar