Political newcomer Rumen Radev sworn in as Bulgaria’s president

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Bulgaria’s new president, Rumen Radev, took his oath of office Thursday, preparing the way for him to formally take over the post from Rosen Plevneliev on Sunday.

Radev, who is the country’s fifth democratically elected president, was sworn in at a ceremony in parliament on Thursday together with Vice-president Iliana Yotova.

The 53-year-old former chief of the Bulgarian Air Force defeated the ruling center-right party’s candidate in a November election, triggering an early parliamentary vote to be held in the spring.

Radev, who ran on the ticket of the opposition Socialist party, said in his address to parliament that he will work for accelerating the economy and improving social systems. Bulgaria, a Balkan country of 7.2 people which joined the European Union a decade ago, remains the poorest member of the 28-nation bloc.

The former NATO fighter pilot who once studied at the US Air War College in Alabama, pledged to maintain Bulgaria’s place in NATO and the European Union.

He said that Bulgaria’s EU and NATO membership is a “strategic choice that should not be called into question,” countering criticism that his earlier declared support for lifting Western sanctions on Russia may suggest Bulgaria is making a geopolitical shift.

Radev said that “Bulgaria’s foreign policy should be set here in Bulgaria and defended abroad, not the other way around,” adding that this policy “should be open toward the world and win friends and partners, not enemies.”

Bulgaria’s presidency is primarily ceremonial. Although the head of state has no executive powers and all major policies must be approved by parliament, the popular election gives the post more influence and authority.

Radev’s first task will be to appoint a caretaker government after Prime Minister Boiko Borisov’s center-right coalition government resigned. He also has to dissolve parliament and set a date for general elections.