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Saturday, October 16, 1999 Published at 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK

World: South Asia

Vajpayee promises tolerance

Mr Vajpayee's government was sworn in on Wednesday

India's newly re-elected Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, says he plans to concentrate on improving the economy and implementing social reforms to build a strong, prosperous and tolerant country.

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"Starting today, our government has set itself the task of implementing our agenda for a proud, prosperous India" he said.

In his first speech since his BJP-led coalition won the election nearly two weeks ago, Mr Vajpayee said he would tackle government corruption and operate what he called a "zero tolerance" policy towards terrorism.

BBC Delhi correspondent Daniel Lak says the latter point is a reference to fears in India of a resurgence of militant activity in Indian-administered Kashmir following the army coup in Pakistan.

The BBC's Daniel Lak in Delhi reports on Mr Vajpayee's vision of India in the next millennium
India blames the Pakistani military for the militant separatist activity in Indian Kashmir.

In the speech broadcast across India, Mr Vajpayee said his coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, had representatives from all over the country and from most walks of life.

Mr Vajpayee said he wanted his government to build a strong, prosperous and tolerant India, free from discrimination and insecurity.

Liberal values

Our correspondent says the speech shows the prime minister is keen to assert his own moderate liberal values over some of the more hardline Hindu nationalist feelings of many of his BJP colleagues.

[ image: Mr Vajpayee's election buoyed investor confidence on India's stock markets]
Mr Vajpayee's election buoyed investor confidence on India's stock markets
Mr Vajpayee also made a number of promises to improve the lot of India's hundreds of millions of rural poor, including the provision of clean water, health care, education, new roads and housing.

He also talked about the need to create jobs for all Indians.

On the economy, he said his government would increase the pace of free market economic reform and introduce a modern regulatory framework for the financial markets.

Years of unstable coalition governments and political uncertainly have undermined confidence in Indian financial markets.

Mr Vajpayee now appears set to head one of the strongest and longest-serving governments in recent Indian history.

But our correspondent says it remains to be seen whether his large coalition will allow him to implement measures that will inevitably have opponents, even among his allies.

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