Romania spy chief nominated to replace PM Emil Boc

Romania's ex-PM Emil Boc (file pic Jan 2012) Emil Boc said his government had not taken part in a popularity contest

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Romania's president has nominated the country's intelligence service chief as prime minister hours after Emil Bloc resigned amid austerity protests.

"The ruling coalition agreed to appoint Mihai Razvan Ungureanu as prime minister designate," President Traian Basescu said in a statement.

The nomination now requires approval by Romania's parliament.

Mr Boc said he was stepping down to "defuse political and social tension" in the face of three weeks of protests.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, he said he had given up the government's mandate as "it is the moment for important political decisions".

Although Romania's economy grew last year, the government has been hit by widespread demonstrations.

Mr Boc has imposed a 25% cut in public sector wages and a freeze on pensions.

Sales tax was also increased to 24%, in a country seen as Europe's second poorest.

Romania said it needed to implement the measures to qualify for the next instalment of a 20bn-euro ($25bn; £17bn) bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

'Technocrat government'

In a statement, Mr Boc, 45, said that in a time of crisis, his centrist government had not taken part in a popularity contest but had acted to save the country.

Start Quote

Reforms will continue. The added value that I will bring resides in my experience as a manager”

End Quote Mihai Razvan Ungureanu PM-designate

"I know that I made difficult decisions, but the fruits have begun to appear," he said.

Elections in Romania are scheduled to take place in November, but the BBC's Central Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe says they are likely to be brought forward to the summer.

President Basescu took the procedural step of appointing Boc's Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu as caretaker prime minister, before announcing the nomination of Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.

Mr Ungureanu has a master's degree from Oxford University and was foreign minister between 2004 and 2007 during Mr Basescu's first term of office.

"Reforms will continue. The added value that I will bring resides in my experience as a manager," Mr Ungureanu, 43, was quoted by news agency AFP as saying after his nomination.

Protests broke out last month, initially against the resignation of popular junior health minister Raed Arafat, but soon became an expression of discontent against austerity and corruption.

The left-wing opposition USL alliance, headed by Victor Ponta, is currently leading the opinion polls. Mr Ponta suggested last week that Romania should either have early elections similar to Spain, or temporarily install a technocrat administration, like Italy.

Mr Ponta has said he favours continuing the current, $26bn standby credit agreement with the IMF, but would like to gradually adjust it.

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