John Dalli yesterday put an end to weeks of speculation and resigned as Foreign and Investment Promotion Minister, saying he was unable to work effectively due to the attacks levelled against him from "different sides".

Michael Frendo, Parliamentary Secretary within the Foreign Ministry, was immediately sworn in as his successor in a ceremony at the Palace in Valletta early yesterday afternoon. The post of parliamentary secretary has been eliminated.

News of the resignation, the sixth involving a minister in the past 35 years, broke at about noon yesterday. However, Mr Dalli said he intends to stay on as an MP to continue to build on what the Nationalist Party had achieved.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi told The Sunday Times in an interview after the announcement: "I think the situation unfortunately developed in a way where both of us concluded that Mr Dalli could not continue to occupy the post of a minister. That is why I accepted his resignation when he offered it."

Dr Gonzi said the resignation had been under discussion for the past 10 days, but the actual written offer of resignation was received yesterday morning.

He also said that ministers must project the highest standards of ethical behaviour.

However, during a press conference Labour leader Alfred Sant said the prime minister's handling of the situation had insulted the intelligence of the nation.

The Times reported last month that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made over Lm40,000 worth of travel bookings through a travel agency which is a shareholder in a company whose directors are the two daughters and a former driver of Mr Dalli.

Dr Sant had in the days prior to that report accused the foreign minister of personally intervening to ensure that Gauci Borda Shipping Ltd - whose secretary is Mr Dalli's daughter - was appointed local agent of Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), which had previously been represented locally by SMS shipping.

Dr Gonzi said that the information supplied so far had not substantiated the allegations regarding IRISL. However, the facts regarding Tourist Services spoke for themselves.

The prime minister also ruled out a frame-up within his party to oust Mr Dalli.

"There was absolutely nothing within the party that had any bearing whatsoever on how this situation developed," he said.

Speaking shortly after being sworn in as Foreign Minister, Dr Frendo said he was prepared to shoulder his new role with humility and determination.

Dr Frendo is no amateur to foreign affairs, especially where EU matters are concerned. He was one of the government's representatives on the Convention for the Future of Europe.

"It's an area I'm very interested in and I will give my best contribution. I will do my utmost to justify the faith the Prime Minister has put in me," Dr Frendo said.

Asked whether he was sorry for Mr Dalli's fate, Dr Frendo replied: "Obviously nobody is happy in such circumstances, but I don't think I should comment about it."

Last February, Mr Dalli was up against Dr Gonzi and Education Minister Louis Galea in the race for the leadership of the Nationalist Party.

Since his first election to parliament in 1987, Mr Dalli has been one of the most prominent members of the Nationalist Cabinet.

During his tenure at the Finance Ministry, Mr Dalli was responsible for wide-ranging fiscal reforms, including the introduction of VAT.

The Investment Promotion portfolio, previously pertaining to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, is now under the responsibility of Dr Austin Gatt ,whose ministry will be renamed Investment, Industry and Information Technology.

John Dalli fact file

Born: October 5, 1948

Status: Married, with two children

Profession: Accountant

Political career: Entered politics in the early 1970s. He served in the Youth Movement and national executive of the Nationalist Party. Elected to parliament every time since 1987.

1987-1990: Parliamentary Secretary for Industry

1990-1992: Economic Affairs Minister

1992-1996: Finance Minister

1996-1998: Shadow Minister of Finance

1998-2004: Finance Minister

February 2004: Contender for Nationalist Party leader

April 2004: Foreign Affairs and Investments Minister

July 2004: Resigns as minister

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