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Estonia swears in new government

Estonia has sworn in a new coalition government led by a party that gets support from the country's ethnic Russian minority. The new government has reaffirmed its NATO and EU commitments.

Estonia's parliament on Wednesday swore in a new coalition government led by Juri Ratas, whose Center Party has traditionally garnered support from the Baltic country's Russian speaking minority. 

The Center Party will share power with the left-leaning Social Democrats and the conservative IRL party, with each party getting 5 cabinet posts.

The previous government led by Prime Minister Taavi Roivas collapsed earlier this month after five parties, including his junior coalition partners the Social Democrats and IRL, abandoned him amid questions over his leadership.

The small NATO and EU member reaffirmed its commitment to the West even amid some concern that the Center Party gets support from the country's Russian-speaking minority and is close to Moscow.

Estland Juri Ratas (Getty Images/AFP/R. Pajula)

Ratas listed his priorities as boosting a stagnating economy, battling inequality, security and reversing a declining population.

"Estonia is an open and pro-western democratic country and walks firmly on the road that we have chosen almost 30 years ago," President Kersti Kaljulaid said in statement on Tuesday.  She added "that Estonia is a faithful NATO ally and a demanding and active partner in the EU."

The country of 1.3 million people, a quarter of which are ethnic Russians, will take over the EU's six month rotating presidency in July. The three party coalition is against the EU's migration quota plan. 

Ratas, the 38-year-old former mayor of Tallinn, took over the reigns of the Center Party earlier this month after the longtime pro-Russia party leader Edgar Savisaar was replaced.

The leadership shakeup opened the way for political parties that had previously said they would not work with the Center Party to enter discussions on forming a new government. Ratas has been more critical of Russia than his predecessor.

On Monday, Ratas said his party had frozen a 2004 cooperation agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. He also confirmed that the EU and NATO are "the most important guarantee of security and welfare" in the country. He listed the country's largest challenges as demographic development, reviving a stagnating economy, fighting inequality and security.

Estonia has passed through political change over the past two months, with Kaljulaid becoming the first woman president in October. She took over from Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was a vocal critic of Russia and the country's president for 10 years.

While the political changes are largely domestic in origin, they come as the Baltic states remain concerned Russia could interfere in their internal affairs. NATO plans to rotate troops into members Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland to reassure and deter against a potential repeat of Moscow's intervention in Ukraine and support for Russian ethnic minorities.     

cw/bw (AFP, AP)

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