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SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's president on Tuesday called an early national election for March 26 and appointed former parliament speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov as caretaker prime minister until then.
Gerdzhikov, 70, currently a professor of law and head of an arbitration court, served as speaker of parliament in a centrist government from 2001 to 2005.
Kiril Ananiev, 61, currently a deputy finance minister in charge of budgets, will take over as finance minister, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
President Rumen Radev, who took office this month, had to call an early election after the centre-right government resigned late last year following the presidential election loss of its candidate. He will dissolve the parliament on Friday.
"The head of state sets March 26 as the date for the general election. With another decree, the president appoints Ognyan Gerdzhikov as interim prime minister," the president's office said in a statement.
Russia-friendly Radev is also expected to appoint diplomat Radi Naidenov, at present Bulgarian ambassador to Germany, as interim foreign minister in a bit to reaffirm Sofia's commitment to its allies in the European Union and NATO.
The main task of Gerdzhikov's interim government will be to ensure that the Balkan country holds a fair election and maintain fiscal stability to protect the Bulgarian currency's peg against the euro.
The centre-right government of Boiko Borisov steered economic growth and cut unemployment to an 8-year low, while cutting fiscal deficit, but its failure to tackle widespread graft in the EU's poorest country has frustrated voters.
Political analysts say the parliamentary election, Bulgaria's third since 2013, is again unlikely to produce a strong majority government able to implement the judicial, economic and other reforms the country needs.
Borisov's GERB party has a narrow lead over their main Socialist rivals, the latest opinion polls show.
"None of the parties is expected to win an outright majority, which will result in a fragmented parliament and another fragile coalition government," Teneo Intelligence analyst Andrius Tursa said in a note.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Mark Heinrich)