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Former King of Bulgaria Named Prime Minister - 2001-07-16

Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov has asked the country's former king, Simeon II, to form a new government. Mr. Stoyanov issued the mandate Sunday, nearly a month after the former monarch's National Movement party won the most votes in general elections.

Prime Minister designate Simeon Saxe-Coburgotski - better known by his royal name, Simeon II - is the first former monarch in Eastern Europe since the collapse of Communism a decade ago, to return to power. Several other former monarchs from Albania, Yugoslavia, Montenegro and Romania also have close contacts with political movements, but have not moved on to government positions.

The 64-year old prime minister-designate, was crowned King of Bulgaria during World War II, in 1943, after the sudden death of his father, King Boris. He was six years old. He soon lost the throne, following a 1946 referendum, which was widely believed to have been rigged by the then-Communist regime.

At age nine he was forced into exile and fled to Egypt with his mother, queen Ioanna. He later became a respected businessman in Spain. After the collapse of Communism, he returned to Bulgaria in 1996. He is now to become Prime Minister, in the aftermath of the landslide victory of his National Movement Party, in national elections held June 17.

The National Movement is just one seat short of an outright majority in Bulgaria's Parliament and has been holding talks about a possible governing coalition with the former ruling Union of Democratic Forces and with the Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom.

President Petar Stoyanov is giving Mr. Simeon Saxe-Coburgotski a mandate to form a new Cabinet, at a difficult time in Bulgaria. The former monarch is confronted with a country suffering from an 18 percent unemployment rate and with about 70 percent of Bulgaria's just over eight million population living at or below the poverty line.

Last week Mr. Saxe-Corburgotski admitted that becoming Prime Minister will be, in his words, a "difficult and complicated task." But the ex-King said he wants to make good on his promises to increase prosperity in Bulgaria, which he hopes to integrate into the European Union and NATO.

Critics have questioned Mr. Saxe-Corbutgotski's political credentials. But his supporters argue that the business contacts from his previous career will only help to move Bulgaria forward