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Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev (R) speaks to President-elect Rumen Radev in Sofia, Bulgaria, November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

(reuters_tickers)

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA (Reuters) - Former air force commander Rumen Radev was sworn in as Bulgaria's new president on Thursday and said he would dissolve the parliament in a week's time following the collapse of the centre-right government.

Radev, a political newcomer who ran as an independent with the backing of the opposition Socialists, takes up his largely ceremonial post on Sunday after pledging to maintain Bulgaria's position as a member of the European Union and NATO while also improving historically important ties with Russia.

Radev's decisive victory in November's presidential race prompted the government of Boiko Borisov to resign, raising the prospect of prolonged political uncertainty in the Balkan nation and making an early parliamentary election virtually inevitable.

"You have one more week (until dissolution)," Radev told lawmakers, meaning that under Bulgaria's constitutional rules the parliamentary election is likely to take place on March 26.

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 they say the country needs.

DIALOGUE WITH RUSSIA

Radev won the presidency on the back of voters' frustration with a corrupt political elite and concerns over the EU's migrant crisis, which is lapping at Bulgaria's southeastern border with Turkey.

Radev said membership of the EU and NATO was a strategic choice for Bulgaria that should not be questioned but said he hoped a dialogue between the West and Russia would be restored after Donald Trump takes over as U.S. president.

"Bulgaria's foreign policy should be open to the world and win friends and partners, not enemies," said Radev, who trained as a pilot in the United States and speaks fluent English as well as Russian and German.

His stance on Russia contrasts with that of outgoing President Rosen Plevneliev, who was one of 17 east European leaders to sign a letter to Trump urging him not to ease sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.

Radev backs the lifting of the sanctions but did not mention them or Crimea on Thursday.

Bulgaria, a Black Sea nation of 7.2 million people, joined the EU in 2007 but still depends almost entirely on Russia for its energy supplies and military kit, while Russian tourists are an important source of revenue.

Radev also called on Thursday for tougher border controls to curb migrant inflows and an overhaul of the graft-prone judiciary.

While the prime minister and government hold most power in Bulgaria, the president can shape public opinion, appoints ambassadors and can veto legislation once.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

Reuters