Conservative New Zealand PM sworn in

John Key became New Zealand's conservative new prime minister Wednesday and underscored the economy as his top priority, planning to head for a Pacific Rim summit the following day to discuss the global financial crisis, reported CNN.

Key, whose center-right grouping toppled nine-year Prime Minister Helen Clark in November 8 elections, took the oath of office along with his Cabinet ministers in front of Governor General Anand Satyanand at Parliament House.

Key noted that his new government was assuming power against a "backdrop of a very serious international economic crisis," and pledged to ensure "greater prosperity" during his three-year tenure.

He became the country's 38th premier after his National Party won the most seats in the 122-seat Parliament, moving quickly to forge support agreements with three minor parties that gave him a majority of 70.

With the economy in recession throughout 2008 and no growth expected before mid-2009, Key has already signaled that a stimulus package of tax cuts and government infrastructure spending will be in place by early next year.

He pledged during the election campaign to boost the flailing economy and soften Clark's ambitious environmental policies.

Key said he intended to take up concerns that protectionist trade barriers could emerge during the international downturn with other leaders at the weekend summit of the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

"It's a wonderful opportunity ... [to] put New Zealand's case forward which is about free trade and ensuring at a time where the domestic economies of various countries are really starting to pull back ... that people don't retreat too much," Key said.

Key flies out early Thursday for the APEC summit in Lima, Peru.

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