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Morocco's king names PJD's Othmani as prime minister

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named Saad Eddine El Othmani of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) as the country’s new prime minister and asked him to form a government, a statement carried by MAP state news agency said on Friday.

Saad Eddine El Othmani addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

The king announced on Wednesday he would replace Abdelilah Benkirane as prime minister with another member of the PJD in an effort to break a five-month post-election deadlock that left the North African state without a government.

Othmani was foreign minister from 2012-2013 and had most recently served as the head of the PJD’s parliamentary group.

A psychiatrist by training and highly active on social media, Othmani is regarded as a close ally of Benkirane’s. It is not clear what difference his appointment makes to the PJD’s negotiating position on forming a government.

The PJD has led the government since 2011, when King Mohammed ceded some powers to ease “Arab Spring” protests.

It increased its share of the vote in October elections, maintaining its position as the biggest party. But it has been met with resistance during political negotiations from parties who opponents describe as being close to the palace.

Under Morocco’s election law no party can win an outright majority in the 395-seat parliament, making coalition governments necessary in a system where the king holds ultimate power.

During negotiations, the PJD had expressed its intention to form a government based on a coalition of parties, which includes the National Rally of Independents (RNI), Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), and the Popular Movement.

PJD’s relations with a former coalition partner, the conservative Istiqlal party, soured over economic reforms, meaning it had to enter talks with other parties. Some palace loyalists are uncomfortable sharing power with Islamists.

The RNI, under the leadership of current Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and close friend of the king, Aziz Akhannouch, has tried to impose a bloc of four minor parties into the coalition, which would weaken the PJD sway.

Negotiations stalled mostly over the RNI’s insistence on including the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), which the PJD has rejected, citing its poor performance in elections.

The PJD is due to host a national council meeting on Saturday to decide its next steps.

On Thursday it issued a statement in support of Benkirane. “He is not responsible, in any way, for the delay in forming a government,” it said.

Former transport minister and PJD member Aziz Rabbah applauded the king’s decision to choose El Othmani.

“Othmani is part of the historic leadership of this party, and from the leadership that contributed to the political growth of this party,” Rabbah told Reuters.

Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Gareth Jones and Julia Glover