Soz is new Congress chief in poll-bound J

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New Delhi, Feb 13 (UNI) Nearly a month after remaining headless, the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir has a new chief today with the appointment of Union Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz on the post, barely few months ahead of the crucial Assembly elections in the troubled state.

Seventy-one-year-old Prof Soz replaced Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed who had resigned from the post on January 17 following allegations of bribery levelled against him by a sitting legislator.

In a statement, the party said Congress president Sonia Gandhi has approved Prof Soz's name in consultation with the general secretary in-charge of the state affairs.

Prof Soz, a Congress Working Committee (CWC) member, would retain, at least for the time being, the portfolio of Water Resources Ministry.

Prof Soz, an economist, shot into limelight on April 17, 1999, when he defied the National Conference (NC) whip to vote against the motion of confidence moved by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in the Lok Sabha.

His ''shock'' voted pulled down the 13-month-old BJP-led coalition government at the Centre.

Prof Soz was subsequently expelled from the NC and later joined the Congress.

His appointment was a move aimed at strengthening the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir at a crucial time when the strife-torn state goes to polls later this year, most probably September-October.

Following the allegations, Sayeed had also resigned from the state Cabinet as Education and Haj and Auqaf Minister.

Independent legislator Shoaib Lone had alleged in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on January 11 that Sayeed demanded and took from him Rs 40,000 for giving permission to his sister to open an elementary teacher training institute in the Valley.

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