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Estonia prime minister to step down

HELSINKI — Estonia’s prime minister said Sunday he would step down next week after nearly nine years in office in the small Baltic nation.

Andrus Ansip’s resignation had been expected after his 2012 announcement that he would not seek another term in next year’s parliamentary elections.

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In an annual prime minister’s speech before Estonia’s Independence Day on Monday, Ansip said it was a sensible move to give up his post now ‘‘because only that way people will have the opportunity to choose in 2015 for or against continuing the current [government] policies.’’

The nation of 1.3 million people will hold general elections in March 2015. Local media have speculated the 57-year-old politician will seek the post of Estonia’s EU commissioner after he steps down on March 4. Ansip gave no hint of his plans in the speech.

‘‘Everything has a beginning and an end,’’ he said. ‘‘This decision wasn’t done under pressure from anyone.’’

No changes in government policy were expected since the governing center-right Reform Party said Ansip would be replaced by party member Siim Kallas, a veteran politician.

Kallas, 65, works as the European Commission’s vice president and transport commissioner. He earlier pledged to return to Estonian politics after 10 years in Brussels.

Founder of the Reform Party, a key player in Estonian politics, and the senior partner in the current two-party coalition, Kallas served as prime minister in 2002-2003 and the country’s central bank governor in 1991-1995.

Ansip has been prime minister since April 2005, one of the longest-serving heads of government in the European Union.

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