Musharraf Swears In Cabinet

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- President Pervez Musharraf Monday swore in a new Pakistani Cabinet made up of political opponents who have pledged to slash the U.S.-backed leader's once-sweeping powers.

They included a British-educated foreign minister tasked with explaining Pakistan's new willingness to negotiate with Islamic militants to Western countries concerned that al-Qaida may be regrouping near the Afghan border.

Twenty-four ministers took the oath during a ceremony at the presidential palace in the capital, Islamabad. Leaders of the new ruling parties snubbed the gathering.

"Thank you and congratulations," a tense-looking Musharraf said and applauded briefly after the ministers, some of whom were jailed after he seized power in a 1999 military coup, followed him in repeating the oath of allegiance.

Three of them wore black armbands.

"That was in protest because an unconstitutional president was sitting up there and our minister had to take oath under him," said Siddiqul Farooq, a Nawaz Sharif spokesman. Sharif was toppled as prime minister in 1999 and is now urging Musharraf's resignation.

The ceremony was the latest step in Pakistan's stumbling course toward democracy after eight years of military rule under Musharraf.

Musharraf, whose power has waned since he retired as army chief in November, has offered to cooperate with the new government.