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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Estonian Government Resigns

TALLINN, Estonia -- Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar resigned Tuesday, following through on a pre-Christmas pledge to step down.

The 41-year-old leader -- this former Soviet Baltic republic's longest-serving prime minister -- said the three-party coalition led by his center-right Pro Patria party was riven with dissent, making governing impossible and potentially risking the country's bids to join the European Union and NATO.

The entire Cabinet, which includes the center-right Reform Party and centrist Moderates, also automatically gave up their posts. President Arnold Ruutel will now have two weeks to nominate a new prime minister.

The outgoing ministers, including Laar, will stay on as caretakers until a new Cabinet is approved by the fragmented 101-seat Riigikogu parliament, a process that could take several weeks.

Reform and the opposition Center Party are thought to have the best chance of forming a new coalition. Reform Party leader and outgoing Finance Minister Siim Kallas has been tipped as the most likely prime ministerial candidate.

Laar blamed the Reform Party for the friction in his administration, saying it betrayed him by joining the opposition Center Party to form a new Tallinn city government. Pro Patria, Reform and the Moderates otherwise agreed on key policies.

Laar, a devotee of laissez-faire economics, said he had achieved his main goals since taking office in 1999. He also was prime minister from 1992-94, the years just after Estonia regained independence as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

"In my first term, the goal was to turn Estonia from the East to the West," he said in an interview. "This time, it was to make that turn irreversible."

He said this nation of 1.4 million people was now on the verge of entering the European Union and NATO, and he promised to stick to a pledge he made last year to shave his trademark blond beard if Estonia received a NATO invitation.

While observers abroad have been quick to credit Laar with solidifying Estonia's image as the most Western-oriented of the 15 ex-Soviet republics, he's been criticized at home for being too brash and ignoring the poor.

Laar said he was sure that any successor will stick to the pro-West, pro-market policies he has championed. One guarantee, he said, was the 2002 budget, approved by parliament Dec. 19, just hours before he announced he would resign.

"It's my budget," he said. "Altering it over the next year will be very, very difficult."