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Portugal's premier reshuffles cabinet, appoints new economy minister

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s prime minister announced a reshuffle of his cabinet on Sunday, following the resignation of the defense minister and completion of the draft of next year’s budget, making changes at four ministries ahead of a general election in 2019.

FILE PHOTO: Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa attends a news conference after the Energy Interconnections Summit in Lisbon, Portugal July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Cabinet Minister Pedro Siza Vieira, a lawyer who joined the government a year ago, will serve as the new economy minister, replacing Manuel Caldeira Cabral.

Joao Gomes Cravinho, the European Union’s ambassador to Brazil, will take over from outgoing Defence Minister Jose Azeredo Lopes, who resigned on Friday amid an investigation into a suspected cover-up of an arms theft from a military depot.

This is the biggest cabinet reshuffle since Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s minority Socialist government came to power in 2015 and aims to bolster the administration going into next year’s election. The Socialists lead in opinion polls with about 40 percent support.

Costa said in a statement the reshuffle “reinforces economic policy at the center of government and prioritizes the transition of energy (use) to mitigate climatic change.”

Siza Vieira joined the government a year ago from the law firm Linklaters and will continue as cabinet minister as well as economy minister. The powerful economy ministry has recently gained further importance thanks to surging foreign investment and strong economic growth.

The reshuffle comes after the government approved this weekend the 2019 draft budget which will be presented to parliament on Monday.

The Socialist government has overseen a strong economic recovery since Portugal’s 2011-14 debt crisis with policies to ease austerity measures, boost foreign investment and spur a fledgling technology sector.

The reshuffle also includes the transfer of responsibility for the energy sector to the environment ministry from the economy ministry, indicating a stronger emphasis on clean energy.

Portugal produces a large part of its energy from hydro-electric power and is boosting other alternative energy sources such as solar and wind.

The other changes include the appointment of Graca Maria da Fonseca as the new minister of culture after working as secretary of state for administrative modernization.

Marta Temido, who previously headed the central administration of the public health system, will take over as health minister.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who has to approve the nominations, said in a statement the new ministers would

be sworn in on Monday.

Reporting by Axel Bugge; Editing by Mark Potter and Raissa Kasolowsky