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Borisov to lead new minority government

Sofia's centre-right mayor, Boyko Borisov, will lead a new minority government as prime minister, charged with steering Bulgaria through a recession and tackling the widespread corruption that has halted European Union aid.


AFP - Bulgarian centre-right leader Boyko Borisov took over Monday as prime minister of a minority government tasked with overcoming a recession and corruption that has held up European Union aid.

Borisov, a 50-year-old former firefighter with a black belt in karate, presented his 16-strong cabinet to parliament as "a government for the European development of Bulgaria."

The 240-seat legislature confirmed both the maverick leader and his cabinet list with 162 "yes" votes, 77 against and one abstention, said parliamentary speaker Tsetska Tsacheva.

Addressing parliament before the vote, Borisov listed financial stability, economic development, reform of the judiciary and the fight against organised crime and corruption among his new government's top priorities.

"The results will not come immediately," warned Borisov, who automatically stepped down as mayor of the capital Sofia when he was sworn in as premier.

Borisov's party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, known by its Bulgarian acronym GERB, defeated the outgoing Socialists in a general election on July 5 but fell short of a clear majority with a total of 116 deputies.

Borisov, however, refused to form a clear coalition with the two small right-wing parties in parliament -- the Blue Coalition and Order, Lawfulness, Justice -- as well as with the ultra-nationalist Ataka formation.

He said the support of some 1.6 million Bulgarians made it his responsibility to govern alone. The cabinet which entered office on Monday is the first minority government in Bulgaria since 1991.

Nevertheless, Borisov sought backing from all three right-wing and nationalist formations, which together have 46 lawmakers, for his reformist minority cabinet.

All three parties supported him as premier and his choice of ministers, but only Ataka vowed "unconditional support" in a move seen by analysts as an attempt by the ultra nationalist party to come out of isolation.

Borisov designated World Bank chief economist Simeon Djankov as his finance minister to combat the global economic crisis, recession, slumping foreign investment and dwindling budget revenues.

The interior ministry was put in the hands of Borisov's close ally and former police chief, Tsvetan Tsvetanov.

Top prosecutor Margarita Popova, who has headed a special unit combatting EU-funds fraud, was installed as justice minister.

GERB's European parliament deputy Rumiana Jeleva will head the foreign ministry, while another European lawmaker, Nikolay Mladenov, became defence minister.

The nominations were praised by observers at a time when Bulgaria is grappling with recession and pressure to take a tougher stance on corruption and organised crime in a bid to win back Brussels' trust and restore millions of frozen EU aid funds.

The European Commission has frozen over 800 million euros of farming, road and regional development aid destined for Bulgaria after it joined the bloc in 2007 due to the country's corruption problems.

In a sign that the premier's refusal to form a coalition with the right-wing could cause him problems in the future, one of the parties initially refused to back his choice of National History Museum director Bozhidar Dimitrov, a former agent of the communist-era secret services, for minister without portfolio.

The straight-talking premier warned that he would not allow himself to be blackmailed by smaller partners even if it meant not serving his full four-year mandate.

"We will not compromise for the sake of clinging to power," Borisov told parliament.

Some analysts say his stance could shorten the life of his minority government. But analyst Evgeniy Daynov countered that "Borisov could after all prove a much cleverer strategist than expected" if he manages to strike a careful balance between his three loose partners.

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