Pakistan Promises To Trim Bloated Cabinet

ISLAMABAD (AP) - Pakistan's ruling party said Friday it plans trim the bloated 50-plus-member Cabinet to help cut spending at a time of severe financial crisis.

The offer, an apparent bow to opposition demands, was aimed at gaining broader political support for economic reforms sought by international lenders.

Pakistan's economy relies heavily on loans from the International Monetary Fund and the government has struggled to raise revenues, in part because many residents avoid paying taxes. Chronic power shortages have hampered economic growth and floods last year caused massive damage to infrastructure and other sectors.

Leaders of Pakistan's ruling People's Party met Friday to discuss downsizing the Cabinet.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who chaired the meeting, told participants he wants a "mean, lean and above-board" Cabinet, said presidential aide Farhatullah Babar.

The People's Party has tried to reach out to opposition groups in recent weeks, particularly after a key partner in the ruling coalition threatened to quit and bring down the government.

The defection was stopped after the People's Party agreed to shelve economic reform plans, including a new sales tax. The step drew criticism from the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund.

The government has since looked for ways to form a broader consensus on fixing the country's economy.

It was not clear exactly how many members a new Cabinet would have, or whether many of the faces would remain the same. Key ministries such as foreign and interior are likely to stay intact, though positions such as minister for postal services might be cut.

Several ministers who took part in Friday's meeting have already offered their resignations, said the People Party's secretary-general, Jahangir Badar.

He said it would be up to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to decide when the reshuffle would start.

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Associated Press writer Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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