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Romania Parliament approves new spy chief, dealing blow to embattled prime minister

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania's Parliament approved a new spy chief opposed by the prime minister on Tuesday, dealing a blow to the leader who faces increasing pressure to resign amid a corruption investigation.

The vote was a major test for Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who is recovering from knee surgery in Turkey.

Ponta opposed the nominee, Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, who was proposed by Ponta's political rival, President Klaus Iohannis.

Ruling party lawmakers boycotted the session. Ungureanu was approved in a 278-6 vote with the help of parties which had been previously allied to Ponta, to head the Foreign Intelligence Service — a post Ungureanu already held from 2007 to 2012.

"It's a mission that honors me which I think I have the knowledge to carry out," the 46-year-old Ungureanu said after the vote.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2012 file photo the then Prime Minister designate, Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, delivers a speech, in Bucharest, Romania. Romania's Parliament has approved Tuesday, June 30, 2015, Ungureanu as the country's spy chief, a position he previously held, which is seen as a defeat for the prime minister Victor Ponta. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2012 file photo the then Prime Minister designate, Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, delivers a speech, in Bucharest, Romania. Romania's Parliament has approved Tuesday, June 30, 2015, Ungureanu as the country's spy chief, a position he previously held, which is seen as a defeat for the prime minister Victor Ponta. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)

Ungureanu was prime minister for less than three months in 2012, before he was ousted in a no-confidence vote. Ponta then became prime minister, a post he has held ever since.

Ponta is the subject of a money laundering, forgery and conflict of interest case while he was a lawyer in 2007-2008. He denies wrongdoing.

After prosecutors named him a suspect, Ponta survived a no-confidence vote and lawmakers voted not to lift his immunity.

However, his departure to Istanbul for an operation on June 15 and prolonged convalescence has caused rifts in his party. Ponta's interim prime minister, Gabriel Oprea, approved Ungureanu's nomination on Tuesday.

Iohannis has repeatedly called for Ponta to resign, saying the corruption allegations are incompatible with the post of prime minister in a European Union country.

Romania has intensified its anti-corruption drive in recent months.

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