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Ex-king to become prime minister of Bulgaria

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Simeon II, crowned king during World War II and forced to flee the communists at age 9, was named Bulgaria's next prime minister today.

Simeon returned from exile three months ago to form his center-right National Movement, which won a landslide victory in June elections. He will form a new government within 10 days, party leaders announced.

"With great emotion, but with my typical sense of responsibility, and having in mind the trust that the voters gave me on June 17, I accept this proposal," Simeon said.

The first former East European monarch to return to power, Simeon won broad support on a promise to end poverty, unemployment and other woes that engulfed Bulgaria after the demise of communism. A distant relative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, he has said that restoring the monarchy is not on his agenda.

The decision to make him prime minister was announced by the party's floor leader in parliament, Plamen Panayotov, after a meeting with President Petar Stoyanov. Panayotov said Simeon's party had unanimously approved his candidacy for prime minister.

on June 23, but kept the decision a secret until Thursday. It was not clear why the decision was kept under wraps.

The chairman of parliament, Ognyan Gerdzhikov, said he would call a session on July 24 to vote in the new Cabinet. Simeon's party holds 120 seats in the 240-seat unicameral chamber.

Simeon did not run as a candidate in the elections, but because of his party's strong gains, he can still become prime minister under Bulgarian law.

He was crowned king of Bulgaria at the age of 6 in 1943 after the sudden death of his father, but lost his throne in a 1946 referendum widely believed to have been rigged by the communists. He fled to Egypt with his mother, Queen Ioanna.

Polls show that few Bulgarians want him or anyone else back on a throne, but many are drawn to Simeon's aristocratic bearing and message of honesty and reconciliation — a refreshing change from the bickering politicians and corruption scandals they've endured since communism ended in 1989.

Slim and bearded, the 64-year-old father of five first returned to Bulgaria in 1996 after the fall of communism.

During Simeon's exile in Spain, he spent 13 years as chairman of the Spanish subsidiary of Thomson CSF, the French defense and electronics group recently renamed Thales SA.

He has also worked as a management consultant, forging connections with business leaders — not to mention royal relatives across Europe — that many hope he can use to attract investment to Bulgaria. Arab monarchs are among his closest friends, and many Bulgarians hope those ties will bring business to the impoverished nation.

Simeon has said he favors a broad coalition government with those who share his priorities: speedy economic growth, endeavors to join the European Union and NATO and a resolute fight against corruption.

"It is a hard and complex task but with the goodwill and the help of everybody, and thinking only of the well-being of our people, I believe what we have offered to our voters is achievable," Simeon told reporters Thursday.

"May the Lord help us and show us the right path for the well-being of everyone," he said.

Simeon's National Movement has been holding talks about a possible coalition with outgoing Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's Union of Democratic Forces and with the Turksi Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a predominantly ethnic Turkish party.