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UK's Premier Oil promotes finance director to chief executive

(Adds analyst, Durrant comments, background)

LONDON, June 25 (Reuters) - Premier Oil (LSE: PMO.L - news) , the North Sea and South East Asian-focused oil and gas explorer, has promoted finance director Tony Durrant to chief executive with immediate effect, the firm said on Wednesday.

Durrant succeeds Simon Lockett, who announced his departure in February after pressure from shareholders following two downgrades to production guidance.

"Tony will provide continuity and stability and knows the company very well. He is certainly a safe pair of hands to execute the company strategy," said Stephane Foucaud, director of institutional research at FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE - news) .

Premier Oil said it had shortlisted a number of internal and external candidates to head the energy firm. The board unanimously backed Durrant's appointment.

Durrant joined Premier (NasdaqGS: PINC - news) in June 2005 and has served as finance director since then.

Before that, he worked at Lehman Brothers, latterly as managing director and head of the European Natural Resources Group.

Premier struggled to hit production targets last year, downgrading forecasts twice due to problems at projects in the North Sea and Vietnam.

The company has performed better so far this year with a 13 percent rise in first-quarter production putting it on track to meet its 2014 output target of 58,000-63,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Durrant said in a statement that he intended to maintain the group's recent momentum and would update shareholders about Premier's next stage of development "in due course".

Premier and its partners have also secured a rig for their 2015 drilling programme in the Falklands and the British government recently approved its North Sea Catcher area fields. (Reporting by Karolin Schaps and James Davey; Editing by Erica Billingham)