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Estonia: President Asks Finance Minister To Form Government

Tallinn, 18 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Estonian President Arnold Ruutel has nominated outgoing Finance Minister and Reform Party head Siim Kallas for the post of prime minister. The 53-year-old Kallas, who has two weeks to secure parliamentary approval for his government progam, said he will present his political guidelines to lawmakers on 22 or 23 January. He will also have to win Ruutel's approval of his cabinet lineup.

Ruutel announced the nomination a few hours after Kallas's Reform Party concluded a coalition agreement with the left-wing Centrist Party. Under that deal, Reform will nominate six ministers and the Centrist Party eight, including the finance portfolio, Reuters reported. The new coalition could also require support from the People's Union, which represents agricultural interests, as Reform and the Centrist Party control just 49 seats in the 101-seat legislature.

Kallas is expected to follow a pro-business program and support Estonia's bids for European Union and NATO membership, albeit with what many believe will be a harder line in negotiations with the EU.

If approved, Kallas will replace Mart Laar, who formally resigned on 8 January as prime minister after infighting sparked by the Reform Party, one of Laar's coalition partners. The Reform Party had formed secret alliances with opposition parties in local government behind Laar's back.