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The Appeal Committee of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFS) will announce its decision on the revoked licences of CSKA Sofia, Lokomotiv Sofia and two other clubs on Monday.

The Appeal Committee held a meeting on Thursday at which it reviewed the appeals of the four clubs with revoked licences, the press service of BFS informs.

The licences of CSKA Sofia, Lokomotiv Sofia, Haskovo and Marek for participation in the domestic A Group and the European tournaments were revoked due to the clubs' outstanding debts.

Following the decision of the Licencing Committee to revoke the licences, the clubs had a period of one week to appeal, which they did by providing the necessary documentation.

The Appeal Committee reviewed in detail the documentation provided by the clubs and will announce its decision on Monday.

 It is expected that all 209 FIFA members will determine the future president of the organization Friday. The vote will be executed amidst the corruption scandal, involving high level officials.

Current President and largely considered favorite for the position Sepp Blatter (aged 79) is no longer likely to win the confidence vote. His main competitor is the Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan (aged 39).

The winning candidate needs to get at least 140 (two thirds) of the total votes in order to win. The results will be announced until the end of the day.

Sepp Blatter made a statement Thursday on account of the corruption scandal, and assured that he has no intention of stepping down and will not be assuming the responsibility for the actions of the accused officials.

The corruption scandal involving high FIFA officials also involved an international investigation and joint efforts by the US Department of Justice and the Swiss Attorney General.

Meanwhile, a number of the most prominent sponsors of the football organization have stated that they are likely to withdraw their support on account of its tarnished reputation.

 

The former Foreign Minister and future ambassador to Turkey Nadezhda Neynsky said that she is to seek new basis of bilateral relations and will champion the Bulgarian national interests.

Neynsky did not want to make concrete statements as she was still to hold many conversations before her departure to Turkey, she said in an interview for private bTV station on Friday.

The diplomat said that she will act as representative of Bulgaria and as such she will not pursue her own policy, but will use her expertise, knowledge and contacts.

Neynsky added that during her career she has met Turkish President Recep Erdogan on several occasions.

According to her, the situation in Turkey was very dynamic, but she did not want to build her impressions on meetings from the past.

In her words, it was widely known that Turkey was at present violating some European values and principles.

Neynsky stated that Bulgaria could not remain indifferent to these violations and she will seek opportunities for development of the Bulgarian-Turkish relations.

She said that the relations should be put on a new basis and pointed to the frameworks of the EU and NATO as holding potential for restarting the cooperation.

According to her, all contemporary problems and current issues, which concerned Bulgaria, were concentrated in Turkey – refugees, the problems in the Middle East, energy topics.

Neynsky also commended the reaction of Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov, who dismissed the Russian provocation on the partitioning of Macedonia.

In her words, the statement of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who claimed that Bulgaria and Albania were plotting to partition Macedonia, aimed to cause destabilisation.

The Bulgarian government announced the nomination of Neynsky on Wednesday and the next step is for Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev to appoint her by issuing a decree.

Two Bulgarian citizens who cooked 17 endangered turtles and ate them have been arrested in the country's southern town of Krumovgrad, police say.

The detainees, aged 59 and 26 respectively, have been charged with trying to exterminate an endangered species, according to private national TV7 channel.

No details about the exact species were immediately available.

They told police they were very hungry and felt an urge to cook the animals.

Both men, who are said to be representatives of the ethnic Roma minority could be facing charges of up to 5 years behind bars and a fine of up to BGN 10 000.


Macedonian opposition leader Zoran Zaev, who heads socialist SDSM, is due in Bulgaria on Friday.

A day earlier his party's website informed of the visit, adding he would meet both leaders of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and state officials.

No schedule of the visit has been made public.

Zaev's trip to Bulgaria comes amid an ongoing political crisis in Macedonia. The opposition leader demands that the cabinet, led by PM Nikola Gruevski, resign, paving the way for a transitional government.

Macedonia has been rocked by a wiretapping scandal in the past few months which was followed by street protests and a deadly attack in Kumanovo which killed 8 police officers.

On Thursay, Zaev also met in Skopje the ambassadors of Belgium, Germany and France to Macedonia to discuss way to ease political tensions.

A blast occurred late on Thursday in a Kiev store of Roshen, a confectionery chain owned by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, police say.

No-one was injured after a bomb went off in the store at about 23:00 local time.

An improvised explosive device was used in the attack, Oleksandr Tereshchuk, who heads the Kiev police department, is quoted by TASS as telling journalists from Ukraine's public TV station.

Tereshchuk has called the incident "an act of hooliganism" and has ruled out any terror link.

Roshen is one of the world's large confectionery manufacturing groups, also having production facilities in Lithuania and Russia.

In January, there was an assault on another Roshen store, with a young man purporting to be part of a "civic organization" hurling rocks at the store's window.

Bulgaria's Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov is due to table on Friday new legal amendments which  the government says will bring about a judicial reform.

A document is to be published on the Justice Ministry's website to trigger a public debate.

No complete draft list of the proposed reforms has been produced so far.

However, the ruling axis is simultaneously seeking to put forward constitutional changes which allow for changes in the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS), Bulgaria's top judicial watchdog, to help reform as well.

A draft with the proposed changes was submitted to Parliament Tuesday which includes splitting the VSS into two sections and reducing its term in office from five to four years.

Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov has asked the head of a Burgas-based Lukoil refinery for access to import contracts of crude oil.

The latest development comes as part of a dispute between Lukoil Bulgaria and Kostov's think-tank, the Risk Management Lab, which alleges that the Russian oil giant has been manipulating oil prices in the country, affecting households and business competitiveness alike.

In turn, Lukoil has threatened to sue Kostov over spreading false information that is damaging to the country's business.

The claims are based on figures about differences in prices of the Urals crude, with Lukoil supposedly writing them up while importing the crude into Bulgaria.

According to the news website Dnevnik.bg, the former PM asked the Chair of Lukoil's Managing Board, Sergey Andronov, to hand out import contracts dated between 2006 and December 31, 2014.

He had earlier told Offnews that the Risk Management Lab would take note of any instance of incorrect information pointed to by Lukoil or to "anyone who would like to scrutinize our calculations and analyses".

In his words, the Risk Management Lab needs Lukoil's import contracts to verify them with the information provided by Bulgaria's Customs Agency and either find out that the latter is correct or point more precisely to the difference in prices.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller has said the Russian gas giant will increase its exports to European customers by 5% this year compared to 2014, TASS reported.

Speaking at a business conference in Belgrade, Serbia on Thursday, Miller said the rise in Russian gas exports will come as a result of a drop in gas output in Europe.

Declining production in Europe will be dominant factor over the next 15 years, he said, according to TASS.

Miller also said that Gazprom’s current share of 30% of the European gas market could increase to 35% by 2020.

Gazprom’s exports to customers in western and central Europe dropped by 9.3% to 146.6 billion cubic meters last year. While gas exports to Germany and Italy decreased by 3.8% and 14.4%, respectively, exports to Turkey rose by 2.3%.

Chinese telephone manufacturer Huawei presented at a special ceremony in Sofia on Thursday its latest smartphone to the Bulgarian audience.

P8 is the latest pearl in Huawei's P series and one of the things that makes it distinctive is that it features an option for taking the perfect selfie.

The phone measures 144.9 milimetres in height, 72.1 milimetres in width, 6.4 milimetres in depth and weighs only 144 grammes.

It has 5.2 inch screen, 2 GHz processor, 3 GB RAM and features 13 Mega pixel main camera and 8 Mega pixel front camera.

The phone has a metal unibody, which is completely made out of aluminium and its operation system is Android 5.0.

It is also characterised by enhanced connectivity, offering the features Signal +, Roaming +, Wi-Fi +, which detect the strongest signal for each of the connection modes.

“Director mode” lets users capture footage from multiple angles and then combine them to their liking as well as connecting several phones together and switching between cameras.

“Light painting” allows users to paint with any light source, while the real-time preview option lets them choose the right exposure time for the perfect shot.

“Perfect selfie” identifies the user when taking a group selfie and applies facial enhancement effects to provide a flawless shot.

Time-lapse mode allows for making a clip of slow-changing scenes such as the sunrise, sunset or cityscapes.

Bulgaria’s overall business climate indicator has risen by 3.1 percentage points this month compared to its April level due to improved managers’ opinions in construction, retail trade and services, the country’s statistical office NSI said on Thursday.

In May, the business climate index in the industrial sector has remained liitle changed from the previous month as the number of production orders slightly increased and managers’expectations about the activity of the enterprises over the next three months improved, the NSI said in a monthly survey of business sentiment. Uncertain economic environment and insufficient domestic demand remain the main obstacles to the business development in the sector.

The business sentiment index in the construction sector rose by 2.5 percentage points due to the more favourable assessment of the current business position of the companies in the sector expressed by their managers. Their forecasts for the next three months remain optimistic, though more reserved compared to April.

The business climate in retail trade has improved by 5.7 percentage points on the back of more optimistic retailers’ assessments of the current situation and expectations about the business position of their enterprises during the next three months. Managers in the sector expect selling prices to remain flat over the next three months.

Prices in the services sector also are expected to remain unchanged with managers estimating demand has increased in May compared to April. However, their expectations for the levels of demand for services over the next three months are more reserved, the NSI said. The more optimistic managers’ assessments and expectations have led to a rise of 8.1 percentage points in the business climate index in the services sector in May compared to the prior month.

 

 

The leader of Macedonia’s opposition Social Democrats Zoran Zaev will pay one-day visit to neighbouring Bulgaria on Friday, the party has announced.

Zaev is expected to meet high-ranking Bulgarian officials as well as leaders of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), according to the announcement posted on the website of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) on Thursday.

The former BSP leader and current President of the Party of European Socialists (PES) Sergei Stanishev attended the large anti-government protest in Skopje organised by the Macedonian opposition earlier this month.

 

 

Bulgaria's top female tennis player Tsvetana Pironkova proceeded to the third round of Roland Garros on Thursday.

Pironkova defeated Denisa Allertova from the Czech Republic with 6:3, 7:6 (2) as the two players met each other for the first time.

Thus, Pironkova proceeded to the third round of Roland Garros for the first time in her career, sportal.bg informs.

The Bulgarian played well throughout the match, except for the middle of the second set, but eventually she managed to improve her performance.

Pironkova did not have much problems in the first set, which she won with 6:3.

Allertova started the second set better, achieved a break early on and came in the lead with 2:0.

The Bulgarian managed to return the break immediately, but conceded another break and was 1:4 behind.

Pironkova managed to recover quickly and won three consecutive games, equalising the score to 4:4.

The Bulgarian continued her excellent performance in the tiebreak and claimed the final victory.

A section of Bulgaria’s Maritsa motorway linking Harmanli and Dimitrovgrad was officially opened on Thursday, bTV station reported.

The section, Lot 2 of Maritsa motorway, is 34.2 kilometres long. Its construction took three and a half years to complete. The cost of construction works is BGN 146 M (EUR 73 M) funded through the EU’s Operational Programme Transport 2007-2013 and Bulgarian government go-financing.

Maritsa motorway is part of pan-European transport Corridor IV linking northern Europe with Turkey and the Middle East. It also provides a connection to Trakia motorway that connects Bulgaria’s border with Serbia with the country’s Black Sea coast.

Lot 1 of Maritsa motorway, the 31-kilometre long section between Orizovo and Dimitrovgrad, is expected to be completed in October, Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski said in a statement.

 

Bulgaria and Romania will start offering joint spa holiday packages to tourists from the beginning of next year.

The package, which is part of the EU-funded project “Roman Thermal Spas of Europe”, will offer to tourists the opportunity to stay at two spa resorts – one in Bulgaria and one in Romania.

It aims to combine travel and stay at places, which simultaneously offer both balneotherapy and heritage from the ancient Roman era, daily Dnevnik reports.

The project was presented in the Bulgarian town of Sandanski during the second congress of the Bulgarian Union of Balneology and Spa Tourism.

Joachim Lieber, General Secretary of the European Spas Association and coordinator of the project pointed that this will be the first trans-border package.

The Bulgarian-Romanian package, which will be available for online booking, will be for the length of eight days with the first couple of days to be spent in the Romanian spa resort Baile Herculane.

This will be followed by a visit to the Bulgarian capital Sofia and the spa town of Varshets, while the accommodation will be in the spa resort of Hisarya.

The package also foresees a trip to the 2019 European Capital of Culture Plovdiv and visit of its ancient Roman remains.

The "Roman Thermal Spas of Europe" project unites associations and spa resorts from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Romania.

Venezuela and Russia have agreed to invest more than USD 14 B in the oil and gas industry of the South American country, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said.

The agreement is aimed at doubling Venezuela's oil output, newswires quoted Maduro as saying in a televised address on Wednesday evening following a meeting with the CEO of Russia’s biggest oil producer Rosneft, Igor Sechin.

The agreement was reached in talks between Maduro, Sechin and the head of Venezuela’s state-owned oil firm PDVSA.

According to Maduro, the investment will be used to develop the so-called Orinoco Belt. The area, which runs through the northeast and into the Caribbean Sea, holds some of the world’s largest crude oil reserves.

Maduro provided no details of the planned investment.

Reuters quoted Rosneft as saying in emailed comments that the USD 14 B was the total amount of investments of the company in Venezuela during the lifespan of current and future projects.

Our idea for the construction of a gas hub is likely to become a reality. However, in order for us to be able to apply for EU funding, the three Bulgarian projects need to be considered as ventures of common interest.

The statement was made by Bulgarian Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova at the regular sitting of the Energy Commission to the National Assembly.

''We have all the assurance of our EU colleagues that the funding could be provided,'' added Petkova.

She further noted that the second stage of evaluations on the gas pipeline Varna - Oryahovo is now upcoming, as well as the reconstruction of the Northern Ring and the rehabilitation of the gas transit infrastructure.

Only after the procedure is properly conducted, can Bulgaria apply for EU funding. 

FIFA President Sepp Blatter demonstrated no intention to resign as the tensions surrounding the corruption scandal at the international football association are building up.

Blatter chaired an emergency meeting with the heads of the six continental confederations on Thursday as the political pressure over the corruption scandal at FIFA mounted.

UEFA President Michel Platini asked Blatter to resign and British Prime Minister David Cameron similarly demanded his resignation, the BBC reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin backed Blatter, who will be running for reelection to his fifth term at the FIFA Congress, which is scheduled to take place on Friday.

Putin blamed the USA on attempting to expand its jurisdiction in other countries and prevent the reelection of Blatter to a fifth term.

UEFA initially threatened to boycott the congress, but according to latest reports it will attend and the election will take place according to plan.

Key sponsors expressed concern over the corruption investigations by US and Swiss authorities and threatened to withdraw.

Blatter was not among the fourteen people accused by US authorities of bribery, fraud and money laundering.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called for a delay in the election as the image of FIFA had been severely harmed.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) was opposed to delay and it seems that UEFA was the only confederation to exert pressure on Blatter.

The emergency meeting was the first appearance of Blatter after the eruption of the crisis and the arrest of several high-level officials on Wednesday.

FIFA provisionally banned eleven out of the fourteen people charged from football-related activities.

Some of the officials are accused of accepting bribes to influence the outcome of bids for hosting football tournaments, such as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2016 Copa America in the USA.

Major sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Visa, Adidas, McDonald's, Hyundai Motor, Budweiser and Gazprom are pressing FIFA to take immediate action and restore its reputation.

Swiss prosecutors are planning to interview ten FIFA executive committee members in a separate investigation of the bidding process for the 2018 Wold Cup in Russia and 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

A landmark event, part of the project to bring Azeri gas supplies to Europe, could take place next month – the signing of the final investment decision on the construction of the interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB), according to an article carried by rosinvest.com.

The IGB construction is projected to start in March 2016 and close in 2018. The interconnector with Greece will enable Bulgaria to make a big step toward reducing its almost total dependence on Russia for gas supplies, the article “Azerbaijan and the Gas Hopes of Bulgaria” reads.

With the South Stream gas pipeline project now abandoned by Russia and the risk of potential disruption of Russian gas supplies via Ukraine still existing, Bulgaria now has all its hopes of energy diversification pinned on Azeri gas which the country could start receiving via the IGB.

Bulgaria currently relies on imports of Russian gas via a sole pipeline route crossing Ukraine to meet almost 95% of its needs.

 

Bulgaria's female tennis player Sesil Karatancheva was ousted from the second round of Roland Garros on Thursday.

Karatancheva was defeated by Irina Falconi from the USA with 6:3, 1:6, 2:6 in a match, which lasted slightly over an hour and a half.

The Bulgarian conceded eight breaks and was defeated for the second time in her career at this stage of the tournament, daily Dnevnik reports.

Both players started the match hesitantly, failing to win their service games, exchanging a series of breaks until 2:2.

After that Karatancheva won her service game, recorded her third break and came in the lead with 4:2.

The Bulgarian managed to keep her lead until 5:3, won the next game and claimed the first set.

The second set started with an exchange of service games, but after that Karatancheva's performance collapsed and she lost eight consecutive games.

Thus, the Bulgarian lost the second set with 1:6 and was 0:3 behind in the third set.

Eventually, she managed to recover, won a break and the subsequent service game, lowering the score to 2:3.

However Falconi won her next service game, achieved a break and claimed the match after closing the third set with 6:3.

UK Foreign Secretary has stated that the UK might leave the EU unless the ''substantial package of reform'' is implemented effectively, as per the demand made by PM David Cameron.

“We we are very confident that over the course of the summer and perhaps onward through the winter we will be able to negotiate a substantial package of reform, which will address the concerns that the British people have and which the prime minister has articulated,” Hammond stated as quoted by the Guardian.

He further noted that the people of UK will decide whether the country should stay within the boundaries of the union. The deadline for the projected referendum is set for December 31, 2017.

Meanwhile, the main directions of the necessary reforms were also outlined, as stated by PM David Cameron. They involve preventing migrants from claiming benefits for four at least four years from their arrival to the UK. Additionally, the UK will be pleading for op-tout of the ''ever closer union'' declaration, the power to block legislative amendments, as well as the a ban upon non-Eurozone member states to change the rules of the single market policies.

Cameron will be visiting Poland, Germany, France, the Netherlands and other EU member states in order to secure support for his proposals.

 

 

The European Commission asked on Thursday Bulgaria and ten other member states to fully implement the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD).

BRRD is central to the EU's Banking Union, which was established to create a safer and sounder financial sector and ensure the stability of banking services, the Commission's press service informs.

The directive provides the national authorities of member states with the necessary tools and powers to mitigate and manage the distress or failure of banks or large investment firms in the EU.

The aim is to ensure that banks threatened with insolvency can be restructured without taxpayers having to pay for them to ensure financial stability.

Instead, the shareholders and creditors of the banks are provided with the opportunity to pay their share of the costs through a “bail-in” mechanism.

The deadline for the transposition of the directive into national law was 31 December 2014, but eleven member states, including Bulgaria have failed to implement the rules.

The request of the Commission represents a reasoned opinion, which is the second stage of the EU's infringement procedure.

In case the countries fail to comply within two months, the Commission can decide to take them to the EU Court of Justice.

BRRD was adopted in the spring of 2014 and provides comprehensive and effective arrangements to deal with failing national banks and cooperation arrangements to prevent cross-border failures.

The directive requires banks to prepare recovery plans to overcome financial distress and authorities are granted powers to intervene in operations of banks to prevent them from failing.

Bulgaria backs the idea to send an EU Special Representative to Macedonia in a bid to solve the political crisis in the country, according to Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov.

Mitov made clear in a Thursday interview for the Bulgarian National Radio that Bulgaria had stated its support for the initiative put forth by Germany a long time ago.

“Bulgaria, Germany, and the Netherlands backed a greater commitment of all European institutions to the solution of the political crisis in Macedonia. Sending an EU Special Representative is one attempt to find an instrument through which to enhance the EU’s commitment to Macedonia. Even if this fails to happen there are already a number of special representatives there. This does not mean that we will not look for other mechanisms to strengthen the European institutions in Skopje,” he declared.

Mitov was adamant that Bulgarian diplomacy would actively support the efforts to find a solution to the political crisis in Macedonia.

“It is necessary to step up the presence of EU foreign ministers and representatives, be it individually or through clusters of states. There must be clarity on the implementation of reforms which are compatible with Macedonia’s EU accession intentions. We are currently witnessing a backtracking on these reform plans,” Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister noted.

He also explained that the EU Special Representative to a country was usually selected by a country which had no common borders with the country where an issue had to be solved.

Bulgaria is the most active country for attracting attention to the EU institutions and NATO to the political crisis there,” he declared

Popovi Livadi became the newest village in Bulgaria after the government took the decision for its establishment at its regular meeting on Wednesday.

The village is located on the territory of the Gotse Delchev municipality and will be situated in the locality Popovi Livadi, which was declared a mountain climate resort in 1967.

The municipal council of Gotse Delchev took the decision for making the administrative-territorial change on 31 July 2014, the government's press service reports.

The decision was justified as the required conditions - permanently residing population and available social infrastructure, were fulfilled.

Following its change of statute and its designation as settlement, the municipality will be able to apply for EU funding during the 2014-2020 programme period with projects for improvement of living conditions.

Тhe General Assembly of the Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum (BBLF) has elected four members of the Management Board at an annual meeting.

Petar Ivanov, Microsoft General Manager for Bulgaria and Macedonia, and Boryana Manolova, CEO of Siemens Bulgaria, are the new members of the BBLF Management Board.

The BBLF members backed a 3-year renewal of the terms of Zoya Paunova, AstraZeneca General Manager for Bulgaria, and Maxim Behar, CEO of M3 Communications Group Inc.

The two have an outstanding contribution to the establishment of the forum as a leading organization in the sphere of ethical business and corporate social responsibility.

The new members of the BBLF Management Board vowed to work for the sustainable development of society and the economy in Bulgaria, to improve the business climate by promoting leading practices, and to protect the interests of the organization.

The delegates also adopted the report on the BBLF’s activity in 2014, as well as the financial reports for 2014, and the priorities for 2015.

The event was attended by British Ambassador to Bulgaria Emma Hopkins, who underscored the long-term partnership between the British Embassy in Sofia and the BBLF, founded with the help of Prince Charles, in her speech.

She drew attention to the role of the BBLF in promoting transparent and responsible business practices.

“We share your main priorities – the rule of law, the fight against corruption, and transparency. They will improve the business environment for both Bulgarian companies and foreign investors and will bring prosperity and help unfurl the full potential of the country. The voice of the business sector in support of reforms can be very persuasive,” Hopkins added, according to a media statement of the BBLF.

Apart from the new and the re-elected members of the BBLF Management Board, the panel also includes Iravan Hira, BBLF Chair and General Manager of Hewlett-Packard Bulgaria, Kamelia Slaveykova, CEO of Shell Bulgaria, Maria Shishkova, Managing Partner of AIMS Human Capital Bulgaria and Dale Carnegie Training Bulgaria, Stefan Apostolov, CEO of CEZ Distribution Bulgaria, Vasko Raichev, Chair of Deloitte Bulgaria, Vesela Ilieva, CEO of Unique Estates, part of AG Capital, Petar Velev, CEO of Ecopharm, and Ivaylo Penchev, General Manager of Walltopia. Gilbert McCaul, Risk & Compliance Partner at KPMG Bulgaria, is Financial Controller of the BBLF.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama agreed to disagree on Kosovo and sought closer cooperation between their countries.

This happened at the meeting of the two leaders on Wednesday, which is part of the two-day visit of Vucic to Tirana, Tanjug news agency reports.

The meeting in Albania was historic, as it constituted the first time that a Serbian Prime Minister visited Tirana.

The two leaders agreed that the meeting was a positive step for the future of the two peoples and countries.

Although differences were expressed during the talks, the two leaders have initiated a process, which could only bring prosperity.

They agreed on letting bygones be bygones and looking to the future as the two countries aimed for EU membership and better mutual relations.

The two leaders also called on businessmen and investors from the two countries to become more engaged with each other.

Vucic called on greater trade exchange, which at present stood at EUR 109 M, setting out a target for it to reach EUR 500 M in the next ten years.

Vucic responded to the announcement of Kosovo's Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci that the country will soon bring a genocide claim against Serbia.

The Serbian Prime Minister said he did not understand the statement of Thaci and that it was not based on facts.

Despite the different opinions expressed at the meeting, Vucic and Rama agreed that the relationship between the two states was of strategic importance for the Western Balkans

Vucic also met Albanian President Bujar Nishani, Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta and Deputy Prime Minister Niko Peleshi on Wednesday before attending the Vienna Economic Forum, which is taking place in Tirana on Thursday.

A new video has been released through social networks that has taped an armed robbery of a small convenience store in Sofia.

It depicts a young woman coming into the store and asking for cigarettes. Minutes later, a young man with a gun enters the store and threatens the saleswoman. He holds her tight, while the other woman is able to safely take all the money from the cash register and both of them can leave unattended. 

The store owner, Mihail Rusinov, has pleaded on his Facebook profile for anyone who could recognize the robbers to call the police or his private cell number.

This has been the second video of the sort released through social networks, as the owners believe this method to be more effective than simply calling local police.

The full video is available here

Novinite has asked the ambassadors of the six Eastern Partnership countries working with the EU to boost ties to comment on the outcome of the May 22 Riga Summit, EU membership prospects and whether Bulgaria could play any role in their European integration.

The first to be interviewed was H.E. Zurab Beridze, the Ambassador of Georgia to Bulgaria.

In 1991, Mr Zurab Beridze started working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the newly independent Georgia. In 1992, he headed the ministry’s International Organizations Department. Eight years later he became the Director of the Second European Department. In 2004 Mr Beridze was appointed as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia to Romania and to the Republic of Moldova. Between 2009 and 2011 he was the Ambassador at Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. Since 2014 he has been the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia to the Republic of Bulgaria. Ambassador Beridze is married and has a son.

Your Excellency, soon after the Eastern Partnership Summit held in Riga an analysis by Radio Free Europe said that three countries - Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova  had achieved a victory as the participants accepted the wording about EU aspirations of countries concerned. Do you think there was a victory?

I think it was, because we received from the EU a positive response to our reforms. And you know that we closed the first state of the negotiations on the visa-free liberalization process and a couple of technical questions left for the second part of negotiations. You know that Moldova already received visa liberalization. We started a little bit later, but in a six-month period we made a big progress on the matter. And I think the positive response from the EU is very impressive for us to be the leader in economic reforms, and visa liberalization is very important for us.

Mainly because 20% of the territory of Georgia is occupied by the Russian Federation - these Georgian regions are so-called independent, but in reality they are occupied - and if we receive the visa-free liberalization for Georgia it will be very important for Abkhazia and Ossetia so that their citizens can also travel freely to Europe.

But if visa liberalization is delayed further, do you think there are any risks of Georgians losing hope for close ties with the EU and looking eastwards?

No, I don't think so, because visa liberalization process is on a very high level. I think at end of the year or next year we'll receive visa liberalization at the latest - after we've finished our homework. It will be okay not only for Georgians and not only for them but Abkhazians and Ossetians. I know that Bulgaria still has problems with the Schengen zone and despite the fact you and Romania have been in the Union for eight years you still don't have. This is a big process. But I think we'll receive visa liberalization in 2016. 

Do you think Europe should make the Eastern Partnership countries choose between the West and Russia, or should it leave them to work with both due to their specific location?

Of course, there is a difference between the six countries within the Eastern Partnership. Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine are among the leaders, we developed reforms and will close the second part [of the Association Agreement] when we have done specific reforms. That's why I think maybe this depends on Eastern European countries themselves to think if they would like to have important steps toward the EU or think it not necessary - it depends on them to choose.

The EU is seeking a "differentiated approach" to each Eastern Partnership country. What is special about its relations with Georgia? Is it the "leading" position of Georgia in terms of EU integration?

It is that the other countries are going more slowly toward the EU and we are determined to become members, an AA, and we are looking forward to a visa liberalization.

Could Bulgaria be anyhow useful to Georgia in its relations with the EU?

Yes, of course. Bulgaria already supported Georgia for the EU, for our Euro-Atlantic aspiration. And it always shared with us the experience - both positive and negative. It's very important for us. Last year it was a visit of a Georgian delegation with representatives of 3 or 4 ministries and they had interesting meetings on this matter  how to receive support from Bulgaria on Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Since Bulgaria and Georgia were part of the Soviet space and are somehow part of the post-Soviet space, do you see any similarities in the transitions?

Yes there are similarities in our historical way from the soviet bloc to the EU. Of course Bulgaria is far more close, a member of the EU, and we try to do the best to become members of the EU and NATO. In our mentality we are Europeans.

Is there any particular field of Bulgaria-Georgia cooperation which you think is still lying untapped and could benefit if Georgia pursues ties with the EU?

We have very good trade economic relations with Bulgaria. Maybe the figures are not so big, maybe the figures are not so big, under 400 million trade turnover in a year. But Bulgaria is among the first in EU by the export of Georgian goods. And secondly, I will give you to see this, I think what's important is that a ferryboat operates not between Varna and Kobuleti. This is a big opportunity of course to help our relations. During the Riga Summit it was the meeting between the PM of Bulgaria, Boyko Borisov, and the PM of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili, they decided to hold by the end of this year the economic commission of trade and development, and I think we can organize a business forum of Bulgarian-Georgian businesses.

Bulgaria and Georgia are quite close to each other in geographical terms. Do you think there are any setbacks in relations? Any challenges to overcome? Except for the waters of the Black Sea?

There are a lot of new challenges like terrorism, cross-bordering - it's important that regional countries should have a close cooperation on them.

How are Bulgarians perceived in Georgia?

Bulgaria is traditionally well-known in GE with historical close relations and always in Georgia everyone talking about positive experience and about Bulgaria as a tourist destination - Varna, Burgas, Golden Sands... Bulgaria was and still is popular in Georgia. And I think last month it was the delegation of the Kobuleti region and we signed a memorandum of cooperation between Varna and Kobuleti do develop tourism and trade. It is very well known destination for Georgian tourists that visit wonder seaside in Bulgaria, and we can increase the amounts of Bulgarians who visit the not less wonderful beaches of Georgia.

 

Removal of illegal constructions in the Plovdiv neighborhood of Stolipinovo started Thursday. The action was launched by removal of illegal garage constructions of owners who have not been paying the required by law sum to the municipality. Additionally, trade booths in violation to the infrastructure scheme will also be removed.

Local administration has also stated that all residential buildings in the Roma neighborhood are illegal and will be removed.

The objects that need to be removed are more than 80 only in Stolipinovo.

''It's 2,000 leva but we are never going to pay,'' stated garage owner Emil Ivanov for BNT news. '' We are going to remove the garage and it's all good.''

''Truth be told, everyone should be paying their dues, but if they aren't, then there must be a reason,'' said Plovdiv resident Joro Kostov.

People with illegal constructions in the Stolipinovo area had two options - either to pay the amount due to the municipality, or to remove their property. Local officials said that every one of them had been warned in advance and had a term in which they could themselves remove the illegal constructions. 

The Russian army is stationing armament and troops near the border with Ukraine, Reuters reported Thursday, citing a witness working for the news agency.

Most vehicles at the Kuzminsky firing range reportedly have no license plates, and soldiers have removed insignia off their uniforms.

The report by Reuters reads that "they match the appearance of some of the forces spotted in Eastern Ukraine".

Kiev and the West argue Moscow is backing separatists in Ukraine's Donbass region, while Russia systematically denies involvement.

The past few months have seen a fragile ceasefire, with occasional episodes of armed violence, following the Minsk agreement brokered by Germany, France and Russia in February.

Russia's Defense Ministry has not yet commented.


Bulgaria’s Parliament has established an ad hoc committee in connection with a set of proposed constitutional amendments.

The establishment of the committee was backed by 118 MPs, with 4 votes against and 14 abstentions, according to reports of dnevnik.bg.

In seven days’ time, the new ad hoc committee is to propose rules regarding the procedure for the discussion and adoption of the constitutional amendments.

The committee consists of 16 MPs, 2 from each parliamentary group in the 43rd National Assembly, and is chaired by Dimitar Lazarov, MP from center-right party GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria).

Atanas Atanasov from the Reformist Bloc is Deputy Chair of the committee.

The decisions of the committee will be taken by simple majority of the votes, which means 9+ votes in favor.

The planned changes to Bulgaria's Constitution are to pave the way for judicial reform.

The Roma population in the Garmen municipality have stated their conviction that they are living in peace and harmony with the rest of the citizens in the region. They commented on the tensions in the neighborhood of Kremikovtsi.

''For so many years, we - the Roma people, Bulgarians and pomaks have been living together and we never had problems before,'' said people from the minority. ''We are getting along quite well with the Bulgarians, they have a problem with us. They want to chase us away from here for many years now, but if we were stealing, we would have had police records.''

When asked about the fact that they have been living in illegal buildings, Roma representatives responded that they don't have an official legal permit.

''We have paid for everything though,'' they added. '' It was BGN 1000 per piece of land. It's all legalized. We will also be paying for electricity and water if we get them from the municipality.''

According to preliminary information on the case, over 120 Roma people have inhabited the municipality above the village of Marchevo over the past several years. More than 177 children have been born in the period.

Tensions in the region escalated after three people were hurt in a mass beating between Roma people and the rest of the people living in the village. Citizens of Garmen have stated that they will be protesting every day against theft and lack of laws in the municipality, and a mass protest is scheduled on June 2. They have also continuously expressed their dissatisfaction with government reactions and proposed plan for action. 

The 2-day visit of EU Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Cretu to Bulgaria, scheduled to take place on May 28-29, has been postponed to June.

A breakdown at Brussels Airport prevented Cretu from flying to Sofia on Thursday.

Cretu was supposed to meet with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov at the Council of Ministers building on Thursday morning and to attend the opening of Lot 2 of the Maritsa motorway in the afternoon, according to the press office of the Bulgarian government.

At 4 pm on Thursday, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev, Regional Development Minister Lilyana Pavlova, and Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski will take part in the ceremony for the opening of Lot 2 of the Maritsa motorway.

The motorway section was built with EU funding under operational program Transport 2007-2013.

The National Gallery Square 500 is to host an official opening ceremony on Thursday in downtown Sofia.

Exhibitions have been available for several days, and entrance will be free by Friday.



There are over 42 000 works, half of them by Bulgarian artists, and others coming from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Square 500 is the name a special committee picked for the museum in December after having received some 230 suggestions from citizens over the previous months.



Prior to that the building was known as "The Bulgarian Louvre", a project managed by Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov during his first term in office.

Tickets will be at BGN 10 (EUR 5), or BGN 5 at discount prices.

VISA has issued a statement Wednesday regarding the FIFA corruption allegations and subsequent Zurich arrests of high officials. The company is one of the major sponsors of the football organization and a possible withdrawal of its resources will have a severe negative impact upon all sports events and championships.

''As a sponsor, we expect FIFA to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues within its organization,'' the statement said, as quoted by USA Today. ''This starts with rebuilding a culture with strong ethical practices in order to restore the reputation of the games for fans everywhere.''

A more severe warning followed:

''Our sponsorship has always focused on supporting the teams, enabling a great fan experience, and inspiring communities to come together and celebrate the spirit of competition and personal achievement – and it is important that FIFA makes changes now, so that the focus remain on these going forward. Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.”

Similar statements were released by Adidas, MacDonald's, and Coca Cola.

Meanwhile, FIFA is still under investigation on a ccount of two separate criminal charges. The first one is administered by the Swiss Attorney General and concerns the voting process on th upcoming 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.

Additionally, the US Department of Justice charged fourteen FIFA officials with large-scale corruption.

Archives of the Defense Information Service (DIS), Bulgaria's military intelligence, are due to be handed over to the Files Commission which deals with documents of the one-time security services.

The data, however, will not include names of foreign agents affiliated to DIS to avoid risks for living agents.

Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev announced  the move on Wednesday evening, shortly after signing the respective document, adding Bulgarians should be made more familiar with events under socialism.

"The Bulgarian society should know everything about this period and should never allow it [to begin] again," the minister is quoted by Dnevnik.bg as saying.

Nenchev has been among the staunchest advocates of reshuffles in the military intelligence structures where in his words the presence of many Communist-era agents should be of concern.

Earlier this year, he also replaced the head of DIS citing the need to boost interoperability of the service with NATO counterparts.

By handing out the documents to the Files Commission, Nenchev is taking a first step to "unveiling" their content, since the Commission publishes names, nicknames and other relevant information about one-time agents after processing the material obtained.

DIS officials have warned that the move could result in an exposure of foreign agents who operated in Bulgaria as well, putting their lives at risk.

Nenchev, however, downplays this, guaranteeing no names of foreign citizens will be disclosed.

The Files Commission's official name is "The Committee for Disclosing the Documents and Announcing Affiliation of Bulgarian Citizens to the State Security and Intelligence Services of the Bulgarian National Army".

On Thursday, Files Commission Chair Evtim Kostadinov told the Bulgarian National Radio that DIS would hand out the respective materials by the end of the year at the latest. Some 32 000 files are expected to be transferred from the archives.

Bulgarian businesses are expected to save BGN 144.5 M a year as a result of anti-red tape measures envisaged in the 3rd action plan for administrative burden reduction by 30% by end-2017.

The action plan was adopted by the Bulgarian government on Wednesday.

A project developed by the Economy Ministry in the period 2012-2014 measured the administrative burden created by 16 laws, 130 regulations, and 129 related acts of EU legislation. The legislation that came under scrutiny was selected after consultations with the business sector.

The study evaluated the red tape created by the 16 laws at BGN 385 M, including BGN 270 M (70.1%) related to EU requirements, according to the government's press office.

The latest action plan envisages 130 measures that are expected to allow businesses to save BGN 144.5 M a year.

The measures include reduced timeframes for services, simplified procedures and document requirements, electronic document submission, exchange of information between institutions through official channels, development of instructions and samples of documents, publication of documents online, etc.

The measures related to the exchange of information between public institutions and the National Revenue Agency and the Registry Agency, as well as measures within the competence of the Finance Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry, are expected to contribute the most to the reduction of the administrative burden.

The action plan is tied to Bulgaria’s commitment as an EU Member State to cut excessive regulation.

Lukoil has threatened to sue the Risk Management Lab at the New Bulgarian University over a recent report stating that the Burgas-based Lukoil Neftochim refinery deprived the state budget of over BGN 1 B through inflated prices.

According to a report of the lab, headed by Ivan Kostov, former Prime Minister and former leader of the right-wing Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), the practice benefitted the Russian Lukoil Group, at the same time causing significant damage to Bulgarian households and institutions and eroding the competitiveness of Bulgarian companies.

The lab accuses the company of calculating production costs on the basis of the price of Brent crude oil instead of the cheaper Urals crude oil imported by Neftochim for processing at the refinery in Burgas.

According to Lukoil’s reply, as cited by mediapool.bg, the report is full of misinformation and manipulative interpretation.

The fuel retailer claims that it is buying the raw material at market prices and that the lab has gotten wrong the rates to which the two types of crude oil are tied.

Lukoil also publishes data on the supply cost and market price of Urals crude oil in the period end-August 2014- end-December 2014.

The company insists that the prices at which it buys crude oil are neither higher nor lower than the tariffs at which any other refinery in the EU purchases supplies of Urals crude oil.

The distribution of false allegations which damage the reputation of a company is a punishable offence, Lukoil emphasizes.

Lukoil says it will use any legal means possible to protect its business reputation, including at a Bulgarian or an international court, if necessary.

EU Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Cretu arrives in Bulgaria on a 2-day visit on May 28.

The visit will focus on investments which the EU makes in the development of the region through its cohesion policy.

In the period 2014-2020, Bulgaria has been allocated EU funding of EUR 7.6 B under the cohesion policy.

The new operational programs aim to increase Bulgaria’s competitiveness through support for small and medium-sized enterprises in order to promote the creation of skilled and well-paid jobs; for the creation of systems and structures targeting the development of high-class research and innovation; for the improvement of basic infrastructure and services for the people such as water supply and waste management; for boosting administrative service and management.

On May 28 Cretu will meet with the Bulgarian ministers in charge of the investment programs created under the EU cohesion policy. A meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has been dropped from the agenda for Thursday.

She will visit the Maritsa motorway, as well as a number of other sites in Sofia, which are being built with EU funding, and will discuss the challenges of urban development with Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova.

On May 29 Cretu will participate in a conference titled “The challenges of the cohesion policy in Bulgaria 2014-2020” organized by Iskra Mihaylova, Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Regional Development (REGI), and the Bulgarian Construction Chamber.

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed measures designed to improve the management of migration, including through relocation and resettlement of a total of 60,000 migrants.

Bulgaria’s combined allocation under the two schemes is 788 people.

The proposed allocation of migrants was made according to each EU member state's GDP-per-capita, population and unemployment rate as well as the number of migrants each country has already accepted on its territory.

The Commission is proposing to set up an emergency relocation scheme to assist Italy and Greece – the two countries that have been hardest hit by the wave of migrants arriving in Europe across the Mediterranean to escape armed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

“This scheme will apply to Syrian and Eritrean nationals in need of international protection who arrived in either Italy or Greece after 15 April 2015 or who arrive after the mechanism is launched. A total of 40,000 persons should be relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU Member States based on a distribution key over the next two years,” the EU executive said in a statement.

Bulgaria will be allocated a total of 572 migrants under this scheme - 343 from Italy and 229 from Greece.

The Commission also adopted a recommendation asking member states to resettle 20,000 people from outside the EU, in clear need of international protection as identified by the UNHCR, based on a distribution key over two years. Member states who participate in the scheme will be entitled to financial support, with the EU making EUR 50 M available in 2015-16.

The allocation for Bulgaria under the resettlement scheme is 216 people.

The proposals will now go before the European Parliament, where a majority has previously voted in favour. About 10 European governments, including central and eastern European, have opposed the plan, Spain and France have expressed reservations, while Britain's newly elected Conservative government, which wants to cut immigration, said it would not take part in either scheme. 

Germany, which was allocated about one-fifth of all migrants under the plan, backed the proposals. "You can negotiate the allocation. It won’t be easy but the way is right," Reuters quoted Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere as saying in Berlin.

The proposals will also be discussed by the EU interior ministers on 15 June and by the EU summit in Brussels on 25-26 June. 

 

 

 

 

 

Customs officials at Bulgaria’s Danube Bridge 2 checkpoint in Vidin, at the border with Romania, have seized nearly 15,000 vials marked as containing anabolic steroids being smuggled in a Slovak-registered van.

The vehicle carried packages of dog food to Slovakia, according to the cargo manifest. The starting point of the trip was not disclosed.

During the inspection of the van customs officers found 14,820 vials marked as containing 15 mg of Norditropin SimpleXx each and stashed underneath the declared cargo, the National Customs Agency said in a statement on Wednesday. The market price of a vial of Norditropin SimpleXx 15mg/1,5ml is in excess of BGN 1,000 (EUR 500), according to the statement.

The instructions for use printed on the vials were in Turkish. The inspection revealed that the name of the sender was fictitious.

Norditropin is an anabolic steroid used for accumulation of body mass during fitness exercises. Bulgarian authorities will now have to verify whether the content of the vials corresponds to the description printed on them.

Zoran Zaev, leader of Macedonia’s opposition Social Democrats, expects the political crisis in the country to be resolved by the end of June.

Speaking to reporters in the tent city set up by the opposition in front of the government headquarters in Skopje to press their demand for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Zaev said that the European Council of Ministers has decided that the crisis needs to be resolved by the end of June.

Asked whether any progress has been achieved in EU-mediated talks between the government and the opposition held in Skopje and Strasbourg, Zaev said the leaders of the main political parties still haven’t started negotiating in earnest, according to MIA news agency.

The EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and MEPs  Richard Howitt, Ivo Vajgl and Eduard Kukan will arrive in Skopje on Monday to mediate the negotiations between the leaders of the four biggest political parties – Zaev’s SDSM, Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE, DUI led by Ali Ahmeti and DPA of Menduh Thaci.

The four party leaders have agreed to hold another round of talks early next week after their negotiations ended inconclusively on Tuesday.

 

A Chinese provincial government delegation is visiting Bulgaria to study investment opportunities offered by the EU member state, the Economy Ministry in Sofia announced on Wednesday.

The delegation comprising local government officials from the city of Qingdao, in Shandong province in eastern China, and representatives of Qingdao Free Trade Zone met with Bulgaria’s Economy Minister Bozhidar Lukarski.

“It would be only natural for potential Chinese investment in Europe to be implemented through Bulgaria which traditionally has the best relations with China among all EU member states,” Lukarski said during the meeting, according to a statement released by the ministry.

The Chinese delegation will visit the Euro-Chinese Economic Development Zone, which is part of Trakia Economic Zone, in southern Bulgaria, and will study the opportunities offered by Plovdiv Airport nearby as well as the Black Sea ports of Varna and Burgas.

China’s central government has tasked Qingdao Free Trade Zone with implementing the so-called Silk Road Strategy – investing overseas, primarily in Central and Eastern Europe, according to the statement.

Established in 1992, the Qingdao Free Trade Zone is one of the 15 free trade zones in China and the only one in Shandong province and the Yellow River region. A series of preferential policies are in force in the zone, including tax exemption and bonded warehousing. The main commercial and business interests operating in the zone include international logistics, international trade, export processing, bonded warehousing and commodities exhibition, according to china.org.cn.

The Bulgarian government announced on Wednesday the establishment of a National council on anti-corruption policies with advisory, coordinating and control functions to the Ministerial Council.

The council will be responsible for the development and implementation of policies on preventing and countering corruption, the government's press service informs.

The body will coordinate the development and update of draft strategies, programmes and plans on preventing and countering corruption.

It will monitor and assess the implementation of the adopted strategic and programme documents and will organise impartial external assessment of their implementation.

The council will also discuss the results from the implementation of the anti-corruption policies and will propose measures for raising their efficiency.

The inter-institutional body will make proposals for amendments to normative acts in the field of anti-corruption.

It can also advise the prime minister to entrust the chief inspectorate of the Council of Ministers to carry out the necessary checks.

The newly-established body will be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva, while Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov will be the deputy-chairperson.

Among the members of the council are the deputy justice, interior, economy and finance ministers, the deputy chairperson of the State Agency for National Security (DANS), the deputy chief prosecutor, a representative of the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS).

The body will meet once every two months with an opportunity for holding extraordinary meetings.

Representatives of other state bodies as well as representatives of professional and civil organisations and experts could also be invited to the meetings.

A civil council will monitor and control the implementation of the anti-corruption policies of the national council.

The civil council will feature representatives from NGOs, business representatives and independent experts with proven experience in preventing and countering corruption.

Russia has given up on its EUR 1.2 B deal with France for the procurement of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, a senior Russian government official has said.

"Russia won’t take them, it’s an accomplished fact," Russian newswires quoted Oleg Bochkaryov, deputy head of the Military Industrial Commission, as saying on Tuesday. The commission is the government body in charge of overseeing Russia’s defence industry.

The deal has soured relations between Paris and Moscow for more than a year, with France tying the delivery of the two warships to progress toward a political settlement of the crisis in Ukraine and the honouring of the ceasefire agreement by all sides in the conflict – two conditions that don’t appear to have been sufficiently met. The West accuses Moscow of providing military support to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine - a charge dismissed by Russia.

Under the 2011 contract France was due to deliver one Mistral-class helicopter carrier in the autumn of 2014 and the second one in the second half of 2015.

With Moscow having already paid for the ships “now there is only one discussion -- about the sum of money that should be returned to Russia," Bochkaryov said. He added that Russia planned to build similar warships itself.

Paris had already proposed that a EUR 785 M compensation be paid to Moscow on condition France would be allowed to sell the ships to another buyer, but Russia demands a payment of at least EUR 1.1 B, according to Russian media reports published earlier this month.

The Mistral story, however, appears to be far from over.

Russian Kommersant newspaper reported on Wednesday that Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin had reprimanded Bochkaryov for his statement on Mistral. According to Kommersant, Bochkaryov was reprimanded because so far Russia hasn’t officially given up on buying the two warships and Bochkaryov had never taken part in the negotiations on their delivery.

British Queen Elizabeth II announced on Wednesday that the planned referendum on the UK's continued membership to the EU will take place before the end of 2017.

The referendum is one of the points on the government programme of the Conservatives, who were reelected to power with an overall majority after the general elections on May 7.

The measures were unveiled in the traditional Queen's Speech, which had been prepared by the government, the BBC reports.

The other measures include more free childcare, a ban on income tax, VAT and national insurance increases for five years, more free schools.

The programme also foresees the devolution of further powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The reelected Prime Minister David Cameron said that the package, which contained 26 bills, was a “programme for working people”.

According to him, the proposed measures will result in full employment and bring the country together as “one nation”.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called on Wednesday an early general election to take place on June 18.

It is expected that her centre-left coalition will face a formidable challenge from the opposition, the BBC reports.

The opposition centre-right bloc, which is led by former Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, has been continuously leading in the opinion polls.

However it is likely that the opposition would need the support of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party to pass legislation in parliament.

Following the announcement of the early elections, British Prime Minister David Cameron cancelled his visit to Copenhagen, which had been scheduled to take place on Thursday.

After declaring the date of the election, Thorning-Schmidt said that her government had succeeded in achieving economic recovery of the country.

She became the first female Prime Minister of Denmark in 2011, when the party under her leadership – the Social Democrats won and ended ten years of centre-right rule.

Thorning-Schmidt promised to raise welfare spending, while the Liberals of Rasmussen want limits on public sector growth.

Rasmussen welcomed the early election and said that his party would focus on creating jobs in the private sector.

The election had to be held before September 14, but Thorning-Schmidt deemed that the right time has come for holding it several months earlier.

The long awaited concert of hip hop and neo soul star Ms Lauryn Hill will take place in Sofia's Arena Armeets on July 15.

Sofia will be a part of the neo soul queen's new series of concerts across the world after a long break.

The incredibly successful second album entitled ''The Score'' came out back in 1996 and made The Fugees one of the best selling hip-hop formations of all time. It also won the band two Grammys and was certified six times platinum. Three of the most recognizable singles stayed on the top of the world music charts for quite a while - ''Killing Me Softly'', ''Fu-gee-la'', and ''Ready or Not''.

After the band broke up, Ms Lauryn Hill devoted her time to individual projects. Her only solo album ''The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill'' (1998) was more than successful, getting five Grammys, became number one in the Billboard Top 200 and sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.

Ms Hill was also actively involved in her charity work with the Refugee Camp Youth Project. It allows unprivileged children from New Jersey to attent a free educational summer camp. 

Early bird tickets will be sold a price of BGN 55 by the end of May, and in June for BGN 65. More information on the event is available here

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has urged Russia to avoid holding snap military drills.

Russia on Monday launched snap exercises to test the combat readiness of air defence and air force units in its Central Military District.Some 12,000 personnel and 250 aircraft are taking part in the four-day exercises which coincide with an earlier announced military drill of NATO forces over the Arctic that also started on Monday. Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov has said that Moscow notified the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) about its drills.

“Every nation has the right to exercise its forces, also Russia, but they should do it in a more transparent and predictable way to avoid any misunderstandings," Stoltenberg told CBS News channel on Tuesday. "We urge Russia not to...do these kinds of snap exercises."

In a related development, Stoltenberg and US President Barack Obama discussed critical issues being addressed by NATO during a press briefing in Washington on Tuesday following a bilateral meeting at the White House.

“We had a chance to discuss the situation in Ukraine and the increasingly aggressive posture that Russia has taken, and we affirmed that NATO is the cornerstone not just of transatlantic security but in many ways is the cornerstone for global security,” the US Defence Department quoted Obama as saying in remarks after the meeting.

It is unrealistic to suggest that electricity prices will increase by 30-40% after the launch of the power exchange, according to Ivan Ivanov, Chair of Bulgaria’s Commission for Energy and Water Regulation (KEVR).

Ivanov, as cited by private TV station bTV, told journalists Wednesday that although there were people who probably wanted such price spikes, the trading platform would remove any concerns about this.

He said that all activities related to the installation of the trading were supposed to be wrapped up by end-September, adding that any necessary legislative changes would be adopted parallel to that.

Ivanov noted that then there would be a three-month period for carrying out tests so that as of the beginning of 2016 the power exchange could start functioning, according to reports of the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency.

“Over the remaining months by the end of 2015 it is to become clear what segment of electricity will be offered for sale on the free market and whether there will be an option for a reserved regulated market in order to make sure that there is no risk for household consumers in the first few months after the launch of the electricity exchange,” Ivanov added.

The Chair of KEVR argued that Bulgaria had to introduce the power exchange as fast as possible, stressing that the outcome would be positive both for energy companies, which would compete with one another on equal terms, and for Bulgarian consumers.

He was positive that the launch of the power exchange would result in improved quality and price competitiveness.

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) refused to head the parliamentary committee on constitutional amendments.


Earlier on Wednesday, the main ruling party GERB proposed to BSP to head the committee, which will be established after the constitutional amendments were tabled to parliament on Tuesday.

The constitutional amendments were supported by 132 MPs from the main ruling party GERB, its junior coalition partner the Reformist Bloc (RB) and one of the parties supporting the government – the Patriotic Front (PF).

The other party backing the government – Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) did not support the amendments, but eight MPs from the Bulgarian Democratic Centre (BDS) signed in favour.

Since BSP declared itself against the amendments, it would have been controversial for the party to head the committee.

The parliament will vote the membership of the committee, which will deal with the proposed constitutional amendments concerning the judicial reform, on Thursday.

FIFA's spokesperson Walter De Gregorio deemed the unexpected arrests of the organization's officials to be a positive event.

"This for FIFA is good," De Gregorio said in a news conference following the scandalous arrests, as quoted by the Business Insider."It’s not good in terms of image, it’s not good in terms of reputation, but in terms of cleaning up, everything we did in the last four years, this is good."

Meanwhile, the names of the arrested FIFA members also became evident. They are Issa Hayatou (president of the Confederation of African Football), Angel Maria Villar Llona (Spain), Michel D’Hooghe (Belgium), Senes Erzik (Turkey), Worawi Makudi (Thailand), Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus), Jacques Anouma (Ivory Coast), Rafael Salguero (Guatemala), Hany Abo Rida (Egypt) and Vitaly Mutko (Russia – head of the 2018 World Cup and sport’s minister), the Guardian reported.

According to information of the US Justice Department, the main ground has been a "24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer."

There are two main events of concern that have served as grounds for the international investigation - the upcoming 2018 World Cup in Russia, and the 2022 World Cup set to take place in Qatar.

Meanwhile, a search operation is currently ongoing at the FIFA headquarters in Miami's Concacaf. 

Bulgaria has signed an agreement with a delegation of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation on a donation for restoration works at the Trapezitsa Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo.

The fund donated BGN 2.5 M for the restoration and conservation of the fortress so that it could welcome visitors in the following tourist season.

The project envisages the reconstruction of the western fortress wall, the construction of an alley network for visitors, the conservation of three medieval churches, and the furnishing of a museum exhibition at the Visitors Center where all of the finds from the archaeological excavations will be displayed.

The road leading to the panoramic elevator will also be repaired.

This is the first Bulgarian-Azeri project funded by the Cultural and Historical Heritage Fund.

On Tuesday the Mayor of Veliko Tarnovo, Daniel Panov, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Elchin Efendiyev, the Executive Director of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Anar Alekbarov, and Bulgaria’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Maya Hristova, celebrated the symbolic start of the project.

The documents were signed on Wednesday at the Council of Ministers building in Sofia.

The government proposed the former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Neynsky to be appointed as the Bulgarian ambassador to Turkey.

The decision was taken at the regular meeting of the Council of Ministers, which took place on Wednesday, the government's press service informs.

The nomination will be forwarded to President Rosen Plevneliev, who has to issue a decree on her appointment.

With the same decision, the government is proposing to the president to dismiss Krasimir Tulechki, whose mandate has expired.

Neynsky herself confirmed several days ago that there have been discussions for her appointment as ambassador to Turkey, daily Sega reports.

She reminded that throughout the past years she had been part of Bulgarian foreign policy and was ready to further lend her expertise in championing the national interest of Bulgaria.

Neynsky served as Foreign Minister in the government of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov (1997-2001) and chaired the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) between 2002 and 2005.

She was also MP in several National Assemblies, deputy chairperson of the National Assembly in 2008 and served as MEP between 2009 and 2014.

 

 

The agreement signed Wedneday states that information regarding financial accounts will be automatically exchanged between the EU and Switzerland starting 2018.

This step has largely been considered a major breakthrough in the fight against money laundering and tax evasion, as rpeorted by Financial daily.

The document was signed by EU Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, Janis Reirs, Latvian Minister of Finance, and by the Swiss State Secretary for International Financial Matters, Jacques de Watteville, as stated by the European Commission's press office.

"Today's agreement heralds a new era of tax transparency and cooperation between the EU and Switzerland,'' stated Pierre Moscovici. ''It is another blow against tax evaders, and another leap towards fairer taxation in Europe. The EU led the way on the automatic exchange of information, in the hope that our international partners would follow. This agreement is proof of what EU ambition and determination can achieve."

According to the document, member states will be able to receive names, addresses, tax identification numbers, as well as dates of birth of citizens with Swiss accounts.

The document, however, may need to be further ratified by the Swiss government and might be the cause of a referendum in the country.

The European Commission is currently working on drafting similar agreements with Andora, Liechtenstein, Monacco and San Marino.

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday a draft EU budget for 2016, amounting to EUR 143.5 B.

The budget is aimed to support the recovering European economy and help improve lives in Europe and beyond, the Commission's press service reports.

The funds will be invested in stimulating innovation, creating jobs and achieving greater convergence between member states and regions.

The budget is also aimed at dealing more effectively with migration and further strengthening the EU's role as a global player.

The draft also includes contributions to the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), which is at the centre of the Investment Plan for Europe.

The proposal will be submitted to the European Parliament and the 28 EU member states, which are to jointly decide on the final budget.

Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva, who is responsible for the budget and human resources, said that it was more important than ever to use the budget wisely.

Georgive stated the draft budget is aimed at supporting economic recovery through investment for growth and jobs, as well as dealing with external challenges, such as migration.

Nearly half of the budget, amounting to EUR 66.58 B is foreseen for stimulating growth, employment and competitiveness.

The priorities of the Commission, such as the Energy Union and the Digital Single Market will be supported through programmes, such as the Connecting Europe Facility.

The Commission foresees the allocation of EUR 1.8 B to Erasmus+ for supporting European programmes in education, training, youth and sport.

Another priority , which will be funded through the budget, is increasing competitiveness through research and innovation by programmes such as Horizon 2020.

The budget also provides funds for dealing with the migration challenges and developments in Europe's neighbourhood and beyond.

Vice Admiral Rumen Nikolov, Chief of Defence Staff of Bulgaria, will participate in the Annual Meeting of the Chiefs of Defence/General Staffs of the Balkan Countries on May 27-28 in Budva, Montenegro.

Apart from the Chiefs of Defence of the nine founders of the initiative for enhancing military cooperation on the Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, and Montenegro), the conference will also be attended by the Deputy Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, Mark Schissler, Allied Joint Force Command Naples commander, U.S. Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson III, and the Chiefs of Defence of Croatia and Slovenia.

The topics on the agenda of the two-day conference revolve around the importance of regional military cooperation and good neighborly relations for maintaining and improving regional and European security, according to reports of the BGNES news agency.

The Coordination Group and the two sub-working groups is to create an appropriate framework for a fruitful discussion on today’s challenges and security threats that need to be solved through the joint efforts of the Balkan military leaders.

In 2015, Bulgaria has been ranked on the 55th spot in terms of competitiveness indicators, thus showing a slight improvement from last year's 56th spot.

The data has been released by the Yearbook of World Competitiveness, administered by the Swiss International Institute for Management Development (IMD).

According to the reviewed definition of competitiveness, published, it in fact denotes "the ability of a country to facilitate an environment in which enterprises can generate sustainable value".

The report data demonstrates that the position of Bulgaria has neither improved nor worsened considerably as compared to the situation over the course of the past five years.

The country remains among those with low levels of competitiveness, but nonetheless scores better than Croatia and Ukraine.

The best ever score in the ranking was reached back in 2009, when it was 38th. Analysts have stated that the results are a consequence of the inability of both politicians and business leaders to incorporate stable policies, aligned with national interests, needs and advantages.

Meanwhile, the main strong points of Bulgaria remain the low cost of both labor and goods and services. This, however, leaves it highly susceptible to any changes in the international economic order. 

Austrian OMV has asked Bulgarian state-owned gas transmission operator Bulgartransgaz about opportunities to transport natural gas from Romania via Bulgarian gas pipelines, according to Georgi Gegov, CEO of Bulgartransgaz.

Gegov, as cited by Pressa daily, said at an energy conference on Tuesday that the inquiry had been made by Reinhard Mitschek, Senior Vice President for gas logistics at OMV.

The company is drilling for oil and gas at Romania’s Neptun Block, which is near the Bulgarian Han Asparuh exploration block.
Mitschek asked about the opportunity to engage all the spare capacity of the Bulgarian pipes as of 2016.

Bulgartransgaz replied that Bulgaria’s transit system had been almost exclusively reserved by Gazprom until 2030.

The company informed that the only opportunity was to use the 5 billion cubic meters of spare capacity of the internal gas network.

Bulgartransgaz plans to build a new long-distance gas pipeline from Varna to Oryahovo.

The pipeline is to be around 500km long and to have a capacity of up to 45 billion cubic meters of gas a year.

The pipeline is a key element of the big project for establishing a gas hub in Bulgaria.

The new pipeline will carry gas from three sources – from Romania, from the Bulgarian Black Sea gas deposits, and, possibly, from the South Stream gas pipeline, in the case of a restart of the project.

The idea for a gas hub on Bulgarian territory has been included in the gas network development plan of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSOG), according to Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova.

Bulgarian Tourism Ministry has been advertising hunting of Grizzly bears and American deer, as well as salmon fishing, as announced by the NGO Balkani Wildlife Society, the Bulgarian National Radio reported.

At the Green Days Festival held in Sofia over the past weekend, Bulgaria had been advertised through brochures featuring information on hunting and fishing across the country.

''Even through the first three photos featuring animals, it is easy to note the incompetence and law violation practices,'' stated the press release of the wildlife protection organization. They reminded that the brown bear is a protected species in the country and any hunting practice thereof is sanctioned of up to three years of imprisonment according to local legislation.

The NGO also stated that further advertisements for hunting of protected bear and wild cat can often be found on the official websites of the hunting regions. However, nobody has been accused of violating the law or providing misleading information.

The Bulgarian Tourism Ministry has confirmed the existence of the brochure and added that the case is currently under investigation. A further statement on the scandal is expected to be released by the end of the day.

According to the latest figures of the National Statistical Institute (NSI), which were released on Wednesday, Bulgarians made more business trips and holiday travels abroad in April.

Bulgarians completed 369 000 trips abroad in April, which represented an increase of 14.2 % compared to the same month in 2014.

There was increase in the visits of Bulgarians to Belgium, the United Kingdom, Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Italy and Germany.

There was decrease in the number of trips completed by Bulgarians to Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, Romania and Macedonia.

The largest relative share of trips abroad were made for other purposes such as visiting friends and relatives, education, visiting cultural and sport events.

One third of the trips abroad were made for holiday purposes, while business trips constituted 27.9 %.

Compared to April 2014, there was increase in both the number of business trips and holiday travels, while visits for other purposes registered a slight decrease.

More than half of the trips of Bulgarians to Turkey and the United Kingdom in April were for other purposes.

More than 60 % of the visits to the Czech Republic and Belgium were business trips, while nearly 40 % of all trips to Italy and Spain were holiday travels.

The number of foreign visits to Bulgaria in April amounted to 502 200, which represented an increase of 3.7 % compared to the same month in 2014.

There was an increase in the number of trips for other purposes and business trips, while there was decrease in holiday travels.

Out of all foreigners, who visited Bulgaria in April, the share of EU citizens was 54.4 %, which was a decrease of 1.7 % compared to the same month in 2014.

There was a decrease in the number of visits of citizens from Poland, Greece, Belgium and France, while more people from Romania, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands visited Bulgaria.

There was a growth in the number of visits of citizens from other European countries, the largest increase being from Macedonia.

Almost half of the trips in April were completed for other purposes, followed by holiday travels and business trips.

Almost all visits of Israeli citizens to Bulgaria were holiday travels, business trips constituted 55.6 % of all visits of Spanish citizens, 70.9 % of trips completed by Romanians were for other purposes.

The Festival of the Arts in Sofia will be hosted by the Radisson Blu Grand Hotel in Sofia on May 30 and 31. It is set on bringing joy and entertainment to children on their holiday.

They will get the chance of participating in various artistic activities, including workshops for jewelry making, home decoration, ceramics, sweets and paintings.

Additionally, both young and slightly older participants could get henna paintings, they could paint their own ceramic figurines or could take advantage of any other artistic endeavor.

Young children will have play corners, fully equipped with colorful dolls and various knitted toys.

After the arts sessions, all guests of the event can enjoy the delicious sweets provided - chocolate pie and lemon cake garnished with berries to name a few. 

You can access more information on the event here

Macedonia will join the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project when the European Commission and Russia reach agreement on the scheme, according to Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

In an interview for local news portal Pres 24 he says that Macedonia is a country that makes decisions of strategic importance on the basis of its Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Macedonia is one of the options allowing Russia to circumvent Bulgaria in the construction of the gas pipeline meant to supply gas to central Europe and Italy, Bulgarian news portal mediapool.bg reminds.

Gruevski points out that Macedonia is not hard-pressed to develop its gas infrastructure because it is not using even half of the capacity it has at present.

He informs that the entire capacity will not be utilized even after the completion of the gasification of the country.

Gruevski suggests that Macedonia is not expected to face any serious problems in the sphere over the next 10 years.
He says, however, that the largest problem for the country now is the high price of gas.

Macedonia’s Prime Minister underscores that the high gas rates have been inherited from the past, adding that Russia explains the tariff with the small quantities of gas that the country is using.

He suggests that Macedonia needs new gas supplies to guarantee energy security in the long-term and to build new natural-gas-fueled power plants.

Gruevski states that Macedonia relies on three sources, two of them being the construction of a gas pipeline to Greece, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), and a connection to the Bulgarian section of the gas grid interconnector between Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

Security has been stepped up in the village of Garmen, southwestern Bulgaria, ahead of a protest against illegal buildings and settlers in a Roma neighborhood.

Anti-riot police have been deployed around the Kremikovtsi neighborhood to preserve the order as locals have held rallies every evening in the past few days, calling for an end for lawlessness there.

There was also a demonstration on Tuesday, but it ended peacefully with about a hundred participants blocking the road between the villages of Marchevo and Garmen.

Tensions grew high over the weekend as a fight broke on Saturday between Bulgarians and members of the Roma community.

Protesters, who maintain that the 124 buildings would be demolished and the Roma community should leave, earlier set out an ultimatum to local authorities, vowing to hold a large protest on June 2 unless their demands are heard.



Garmen has a population of about 1846 according to a 2015 census. Members of the ethnic Bulgarian majority claim to have been victims of robbery and assaults committed by Roma people.

The minority for its part says it is being discriminated against.

But Bulgaria's Regional Development Ministry urges for the buildings to be removed and insists local authorities should find another way to give shelter to inhabitants.

On Wednesday Bulgarian wire service BGNES revealed that the Roma neighborhood was build in the mid-2000s under an EU operational program managed by the State Fund Agriculture.



Former Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin has argued that it is essential for Bulgaria that the conflict in Macedonia does not escalate into ethnic tensions.

“The opposition in Macedonia believes that if elections are prepared by the same government in the same way, then the results will be the same. It is essential to us that the tensions there do not escalate into ethnic tensions. We must live with the awareness that the fates of people are decided by themselves,” Vigenin said in a Wednesday interview for the Bulgarian National Radio.

He claimed that the wiser the approach of the countries in the region to such crises, the harder it would be to provoke external intervention.

Vigenin reminded in the interview that the Bulgarian Socialist Party backed the calls for the resignation of Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

A hearing of Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov and the Director of the Director of Bulgaria's National Intelligence Services, Dragomir Draganov, on the situation in Macedonia will take place on Wednesday.

MPs from the parliamentary foreign policy committee, of which Vigenin is a member, have presented questions in advance and the meeting will take place behind closed doors.

Several top officials of FIFA were arrested early morning Wednesday in Zurich on account of corruption accusations.

Swiss authorities conducted a specialize doperation and arrested more than ten officials, the New York Times reported.

Among them were Vice Presidents of the Executive Committee Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, as well as former member of the committee Jack Warner. They have been accused of various crimes involving money laundering practices, taking bribes on bets for football games, racketeering, money laundering and the like.

FIFA is one of the most powerful sports organizations across the globe, as football games are the most watched by audiences worldwide.

FIFA's President Sepp Blatter himself has been severely criticized over the manner in which he has been leading the organization over the years, but has not been charged.

Access the full article here

Lukoil Bulgaria is responsible for "artificial" prices of petrol in the country, a research team led by former PM Ivan Kostov has claimed.

There are good reasons to believe the Urals crude oil is imported in Bulgaria at  much higher prices than normal, to the detriment of both households and businesses, Kostov's researchers say in a report [BG] published by the Risk Management Lab, a think-tank based at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia.

Kostov, who served as Prime Minister between 1997 and 2001, is still thought to hold certain influence over the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), one of the parties in the right-wing coalition Reformist Bloc which is the junior partner in the government.

The cabinet for its part has been subscribed for analyses prepared by the Risk Management Lab for months.

Lukoil does not provide customs officers with invoices showing the price at which it bought crude, showing instead figures with stock prices for Brent (which for its part is 2.41% more expensive).

Transport expenses paid by the oil giant to bring the crude into Bulgaria have also been written up, the think-tank believes.

All this results in an overall difference of 13.27% in real prices of the crude bought in Russia and those it reported in Bulgaria, the study claims.

Between 2006 and 2014, Lukoil thereby inflated its declared expenses by BGN 763.5 M on a yearly basis, or BGN 6.8717 B for the entire period.

Lukoil is yet to comment on the allegations.

What are Bulgarians regularly coming in pickups doing here, residents of the Herzogenbuchsee municipality in Northern Switzerland ask themselves according to Swiss website Blick.de.

In a report on scrap metal trade, the outlet claims the suspicious Bulgarians who arrive there are "self-employed scrap traders" who collect old iron and used tools and devices to sell them to recycling companies in the region.

Bekim Krasniqi, a Kosovar who owns one such company, is quoted as saying he has already bought second-hand devices and scrap materials from Bulgarians.

Those Bulgarians purporting to be tourists who explain, in broken German (according to the quotations) they aren't in the region to work, but to purchase old cars and motorcycles and to export them to Bulgaria, Blick.ch writes.

A number of vans with Bulgarian license plates have been arriving there "for months" by night, and it is hard to see what is in the vehicles, since black sheets are cast over the windows.

For what they are doing no VAT or other taxes are paid by them in Switzerland, Blick claims. Moreover, they are not registered at the municipality, a step required by anyone who stays in Switzerland more than nine days and is self-employed.

Swiss police say that if any illegal stay or activity are established, the Bulgarians will be handed to the migration service.

The "traders", however, live on quite a busy thoroughfare, one of the most attractive places to live in the municipality. The person who rents apartments to them says tenants change every two to three months.

Customs agency head Vanyo Tanov will personally be in charge of organization at the Kapital Andreevo border crossing point  at Bulgaria's border with Turkey.

The measure is in force as of Wednesday at 10:00 EEST, the Bulgarian National Television has said.

This follows a meeting between Tanov and the ministers of finance and transport, Vladislav Goranov and Ivaylo Moskovski, with truck drivers complaining of long queues at the crossing.

Drivers transporting goods across the border claim that slow procedures at the crossing result in delays and losses of EUR 150 on a daily basis.

The move by Tanov, which is now described as "provisional", also comes just hours after a report by French daily Le Monde which reads that a number of "candidates for jihad" use Kapitan Andreevo to make their way out of the EU.

A third meeting of Macedonian political leaders has failed to produce any tangible results, local media outlets say.

Heads of four parties held another round of talks in the country's capital Skopje amid a political crisis, with socialist opposition leader Zoran Zaev demanding the government's resignation in a wiretapping scandal.

Earlier in May an attack in the northwestern town of Kumanovo claimed the lives of eight police officers.

It was preceded by massive street protests demanding conservative PM Nikola Gruevski's resignation.

At the meeting Gruevski gave no indications whatsoever he would step down, according to MIA.

Chairmen of the four parties - VMRO-DPMNE of Gruevski, SDSM of Zoran Zaev, DUI of Ali Ahmeti and DPA of Menduh Thaci - agreed to hold another round of talks early next week.

As with previous meeting in Skopje, this one was held under the brokerage of the EU and the US' respective representatives in the Macedonian capital, Aivo Orav and Jess Baily.

Last week Gruevski and Zaev met in Strasbourg to seek solutions, with EU officials acting as mediators, in a conversation that lasted for about ten hours. Though the two discussed the outcome of the meeting during their talks with Ahmeti and Thaci, they failed to explain what concrete issues had been touched. Meanwhile reports emerged that an option to form an interim government headed again by Gruevski had been on the table in Strasbourg.

But despite international efforts, the opposition is determined to pursue goal to "expose" government wrongdoing, with Zaev saying he is to produce new recordings on Thursday to show cases of the cabinet's interference in other branches of power and attempts to exert influence on media outlet, Utrinski vesnik reports.

Bulgaria is facing a shortage of ballots for this autumn's local vote to be held across the country, officials have warned.

The printing house with the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) and the others licensed to print ballots will not be able to provide enough papers for the elections, and only 8-9 million will be available.

Bulgaria has a population of roughly 7 million, but will need much more under electoral law, and also due to the fact that voters will have to pick municipal councilors as well.

As a result, an MP from junior coalition partner Reformist Bloc told private national bTV station on Tuesday that the government would also look into options to print the additional number of ballots needed in neighboring Romania.

Other parties, including the socialist opposition BSP, however, raised fears this might violate electoral law or harm national security.

Maya Manolova, a socialist lawmaker and ex-Deputy Parliament Speakers, told journalists that the ruling axis might be seeking to justify future amendments to the Election Code. Electoral legislation was last changed by the previous elected government of socialist BSP and liberal DPS, with Manolova being the driving force behind the legislation.

Other scenarios include granting other print houses in Bulgaria the permit to print ballot papers or new changes to the code that would allow print houses with no permits to do the same.

Manolova for her part supports some of the measures as a last resort, even though they would hurt "national pride". She slammed at the governing GERB party of PM Boyko Borisov for failing to settle the matter earlier in 2015, not just months before the vote.

It was Manolova who played a major role in the so-called Kostinbrod affair, with Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov, socialists and a private TV station revealing an alleged plan of GERB to print some 350 000 "illegal ballots" to manipulate election results. This is what imposed restrictions on granting licenses to print houses to control potential cases of vote rigging.








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