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Bulgaria's new interim PM promises stability ahead of elections

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's new caretaker prime minister, Ognyan Gerdzhikov, has promised political stability and calm as he leads the Balkan country toward a parliamentary election on March 26.

Gerdzhikov, a law professor and former speaker of parliament, will take over when the outgoing center-right administration steps down on Friday. It announced its resignation after its candidate was defeated in November's presidential election.

Gerdzhikov was appointed by the winner of that November poll, Rumen Radev, who himself assumed power on Sunday. Radev has called for an early legislative election, Bulgaria's third since 2013.

"An interim government at first glance does not have a lot of tasks - its key task is to organize fair elections," Gerdzhikov, 70, told BNT state television late on Tuesday.

Under Bulgaria's constitution, the tasks of an interim cabinet are largely limited to preparing the country for elections and ensuring the smooth functioning of the state.

Gerdzhikov, a respected centrist whose appointment has been welcomed across the political divide, pledged to build on past achievements but said he would not shy from tackling shortcomings.

Radev unveiled other members of the caretaker cabinet on Wednesday. He said Kiril Ananiev, who has served a deputy finance minister in five different governments, would take over the country's finances, confirming an earlier Reuters report.

A Russia-friendly newcomer to politics, Radev also appointed Bulgaria's ambassador to Germany, Radi Naidenov, as foreign minister in a sign he wants to reaffirm Sofia's commitment to its allies in the European Union and NATO.

The outgoing government of Boiko Borisov revived Bulgaria's economy, the poorest in the 28-nation European Union, cutting unemployment to an eight-year low and bringing state finances back into surplus.

Borisov's center-right GERB party is just ahead of the main opposition Socialists in opinion polls but is again unlikely to secure a stable parliamentary majority, raising the prospect of further political uncertainty that could harm the economy and hamper reforms that Bulgaria sorely needs.

Corruption remains a key obstacle to greater prosperity.

In its annual monitoring report published on Wednesday, the European Commission again criticized Bulgaria's failure to clamp down on graft and organized crime over the past decade and urged the new government to start delivering tangible results.

Radev, a former air force commander, appointed two interim deputy prime ministers to oversee social policies and internal order and security - a nod to Bulgarians' concerns about low living standards and the influx of migrants into Europe.

A further two deputy prime ministers will oversee EU funds and Bulgaria's preparations to take over the EU presidency in a year's time.

(Additional reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Richard Lough)