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Profile: Laos' new president is last of old guard

VIENTIANE -- Laos' new president is a military man to his core -- and the only first-generation revolutionary now in government.

     Born in Savannakhet Province, an area that has seen an influx of Japanese investment, Bounnhang Vorachit plunged into the thick of Laos' independence movement in the early 1950s.

     Bounnhang's ties with Vietnam run deep. He underwent military training there and, after taking part in founding the Lao People's Democratic Republic in 1975, studied socialist thought there.

     Described as a mild man who values personal relations and enjoys golf, Bounnhang is also said to take an interest in bringing up younger generations of Communist party members. He is not the type to show hard-driving leadership. Many interpret his elevation to president at the age of advanced age of 78 within the context of a generational shift in the party's leadership, in which he is seen serving as a transitional figure.

     The new cabinet's makeup suggests the party may be trying to evolve along hereditary lines. The 50-year-old Sonexay Siphandone, son of a revolution-era figure, has reached the rank of deputy prime minister.

     One of Bounnhang's two daughters -- he is married with five children -- has also emerged on the political stage. She was elected an alternate member of the central committee at the party congress in January.

     The party arguably needs a steady hand to navigate this potentially turbulent time. Addressing the National Assembly for the first time as president, Bounnhang stressed that he would promote solidarity in government.

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