* PM resigns after weeks of anti-government protests
* Existing coalition set to continue under new PM
* Parliamentary election due by November
* IMF sees no change in bailout deal
By Ioana Patran and Sam Cage
BUCHAREST, Feb 6 Romanian Prime Minister
Emil Boc resigned on Monday, joining a list of European leaders
felled by fury at the kind of spending cuts that prompted weeks
of mass protests in Bucharest against IMF-backed austerity.
President Traian Basescu asked foreign intelligence service
head Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu to form a new cabinet. Ungureanu
quickly pledged to continue the unpopular economic reforms and
his appointment may do little to assuage popular anger.
Twenty-two years after they overthrew communist dictator
Nicolae Ceausescu, Romanians are the second-poorest people in
the EU, earning just a fraction of neighbours in the West. Boc's
departure was welcomed by those braving bitter winter snows to
protest against job and pay cuts and sharp tax rises.
Boc's resignation, nine months before a parliamentary
election he seemed doomed to lose, also whetted appetites for
more change in the team that turned to the International
Monetary Fund in 2009 to prevent a financial meltdown.
The leftist opposition called again for an early election,
while some protesters want to see the back of the president
himself, like Boc a product of the centrist Democrat-Liberal
Party (PDL) and a vocal supporter of the austerity programme.
Ungureanu, a 43-year-old historian and former foreign
minister, pledged to continue Boc's economic reforms during a
short speech at the president's palace.
"The reforms will continue. The advantage that I will bring
is to be a good administrator who, first and foremost, has a
logical efficiency," he said.
Ungureanu looked likely to seal parliamentary backing with
support of Boc's centrist coalition, which has a small but
The IMF, which helped to rescue Romania's state finances in
2009 with a 20 billion-euro ($26-billion) loan on condition of
deep cuts in government spending, said it expected no major
policy change after Boc's resignation. Investment analysts also
saw little reason to adjust their expectations.
The occasionally violent protests have been Romania's worst
unrest in more than a decade. Protesters have hurled bricks and
bottles at police who responded with tear gas. Demonstrators
gathered again on Monday amid the snowdrifts of the capital's
University Square, an emblem of hope from the 1989 revolution.
The message was not positive for Boc's PDL, languishing in
polls. "The first hurdle has been overcome," one banner read.
"Boc's resignation is useless, since Basescu is the one that
controls everything," said Florin Cioraca, a 56-year-old
military veteran, among the demonstrators on the square.
The president named Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu as
interim prime minister until Ungureanu puts his team and plans
up for parliament's approval, a vote which will probably come
While the popular opposition Social Liberal Union (USL),
wants an early election, it does not have enough seats in
parliament to block Ungureanu's nomination unless it can attract
defectors from Boc's previous coalition of PDL, ethnic
minorities and a group of independents.
That would leave Ungureanu in charge until the election.
Basescu said the continuity would help to keep Romania's
financing costs down.
"This is not a manoeuvre, but the need to try revive the
government's credibility," he said in a speech.
Romania had sought IMF aid to maintain investor confidence
even though its public debt to gross domestic product ratio was
the fourth lowest in the EU - and despite not yet locking itself
into the Union discipline of the euro currency, which has posed
such difficulties for the likes of Greece.
Forced to borrow from the international lender, the
austerity demanded, including cuts of a quarter in public sector
wages and an increase in sales tax, has enraged public opinion.
The IMF's mission chief Jeffrey Franks, told Reuters he did
not expect major changes in Romania's policies: "I see no reason
necessarily for this to have a material effect on the aid
agreement," he said.
"We have every expectation the agreement will continue."
Even the USL say they would work with the IMF.
"I took this decision to release the tension in the
country's political and social situation, but also in order not
to lose what Romanians have won," Boc said in a televised
speech, his voice calm and betraying little sign of emotion.
Protesters are angry about low living standards and what
they say is widespread corruption in a country where the average
income is less than 350 euros ($460) a month - just a quarter of
France's legal minimum wage - and some villages and even parts
of the capital have no running water or electricity.
Many despair of the country's efforts to change.
"I moved to Boston after the revolution and stayed there for
22 years," said Maria, a 53-year-old architect, who was walking
through snow flurries to work in central Bucharest on Monday.
"When I came back, I realised that nothing changed while I
was gone," she added, declining to give her full name.
President Basescu, a bluff former sea captain known for his
outspoken approach, holds a position that is, in theory, largely
ceremonial, but is now seen by many as the real seat of power.
He now hopes a change at the top of the government will
allow the PDL breathing space to regain ground in the polls,
though it is a long way back from less than 20 percent support.
Basescu's cause is not helped by vivid recent examples of
the harshness of life for many people - last week, amid Siberian
temperatures across eastern Europe, Romanian social services had
to rescue children from a house where the rooms were 20 Celsius
below freezing because the parents had no cash to heat them.
Victor Ponta, leader of the leftist USL, which is scoring
more than 50 percent support in opinion polls at the moment,
wants an early election but says he is also committed to working
with the IMF.
The market impact was muted as analysts and traders expect
any new government to continue working with the IMF. The leu
currency and stocks both lost some ground and
the cost of insuring Romanian debt was a touch higher.
Volksbank economist Melania Hancila concluded: "This is just
a change of people and will not change radically the