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Economist Odor picked as Slovakia's caretaker prime minister

Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova appoints new cabinet after Prime Minister Eduard Heger announces resignation in Bratislava

By Radovan Stoklasa and Jan Lopatka

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Respected economist Ludovit Odor was made Slovakia's interim prime minister on Monday and will lead the country until early elections are held in September, after months of political infighting brought down the previous centre-right government.

Slovakia, a member of the European Union, the euro zone and NATO, has struggled with high inflation driven largely by the war in neighbouring Ukraine, and political turmoil after previous prime minister Eduard Heger's cabinet lost a no-confidence vote in December.

Odor, 46, is a politically independent economist who comes to the job straight from the board of the country's central bank.

Heger had planned to stay on in a caretaker capacity until early polls were held but was forced out after a series of senior resignations this month.

Odor and his caretaker cabinet were picked by President Zuzana Caputova, a liberal pro-western politician, and are expected to maintain the previous cabinet's backing for western support of Ukraine, with the defence and foreign ministries to be led by experts from those departments.

Caputova said she expected the cabinet to help people struggling with inflation, prepare a budget for 2024 and take steps to ensure budget sustainability, but also to restore calm and respect to the stormy political scene.

"We are facing an epidemic of populism, lies which become the truth for some people after being repeated hundreds of times," Caputova told the new cabinet at its appointment ceremony.

"I expect you to be part of a counterweight to that phenomenon."

Odor studied mathematics and management, and he has spent most of his career in economic positions in the public sector.

He took part in preparing the country for its entry to the euro zone in 2009, and helped set up an analytical department at the Finance Ministry as well as the country's budget council.

He was on the central bank's board from 2006 to 2010 and returned as vice-governor in 2018. He was also adviser to a centre-right prime minister in 2010-2012.

Central bank chief economist Michal Horvath has been appointed as finance minister.

Slovakia's foreign policy position may be challenged if the government that emerges from the Sept. 30 election is led by former prime minister Robert Fico, whose Smer party has taken increasingly anti-liberal and anti-western positions.

Smer leads in opinion polls although it is far short of the support that would give it a parliamentary majority.

Fico has railed against weapons shipments to Ukraine, while attacking Caputova as a puppet of the West.

(Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa and Jan Lopatka, writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Hugh Lawson)