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UPDATE 1-Comcast taps Charter CEO to run cable unit

* Smit resignation from Charter effective Feb 28

* Will report to Comcast COO Steve Burke

* Charter appoints Michael Lovett as interim CEO

NEW YORK, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Comcast Corp CMCSA.O, the leading U.S. cable TV operator, said on Friday it has named Charter Communications CCMM.OB Chief Executive Neil Smit to run Comcast's cable unit.

Smit will report to Comcast Chief Operating Officer Steve Burke, who will likely focus on the integration of NBC Universal into Comcast.

Comcast reached an agreement last month with General Electric Co GE.N to buy a controlling stake in NBC Universal in a deal valued at about $30 billion. The Philadelphia-based cable company has said it expects the transaction to close in the second half of the year after a regulatory review.

Smit’s resignation from Charter, effective Feb. 28, will increase speculation about the future of the fourth-largest U.S. cable company, which emerged from bankruptcy last November. Many industry experts think that the cable company, controlled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, will eventually be broken up and sold to other cable companies.

Smit, who joined Charter in 2005, played a key role in turning round Charter’s cable operations, industry watchers say, despite the company being overladen with debt after buying other cable systems.

Smit’s move was “surprising,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Tuna Amobi, who added that his marketing pedigree should serve Comcast well in a more competitive market.

Charter said Chief Operating Officer Michael Lovett has been appointed interim president and chief executive. The company’s board will search for a new CEO and will consider internal and external candidates.

Comcast shares rose 34 cents to $16.34 in morning trade on Nasdaq. (Reporting by Yinka Adegoke. Editing by Robert MacMillan)

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