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Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Saturday called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council over the shelling of the city of Mariupol that claimed the lives of at least 21 people.

"Today I held a meeting with the ambassadors of Big Seven and ambassadors of countries-members of the UN Security Council,”  Yatsenyuk said during a session of the emergency response centre as quoted by kyivpost.com.

"We call on our Western partners and the UN Security Council to immediately convene a UN Security Council meeting."

Ukrainian government officials accused pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine of launching the deadly shelling earlier on Saturday.

Representative of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, however, rejected the accusations, telling RIA Novosti the rebels had no artillery systems near Mariupol that could allow shelling of the affected area.

The shelling, in which Grad multiple rocket launchers were reportedly used, came just a day after rebel leaders said they were pulling out of peace talks and vowed to push their offensive all the way to the borders of Donetsk region.

While initial reports said 15 people had lost their lives in the shelling, the prosecutor's office of the Donetsk region said in a mid-afternoon statement that 21 people had been killed.



A male Turkish tourist has been taken to hospital in Razlog, in southwestern Bulgaria, after suffering severe injuries while skiing in the nearby resort of Bansko on Saturday.

BGNES news outlet gave the name of the tourist as Alper Boskur, 25.

He suffered broken ribs and had internal bleeding. A helicopter was used to take him from the ski run to Bansko.

An ambulance then took the patient to the hospital in Razlog, seven km to the north. 

At least 15 people have been killed and 76 injured in a series of rocket attacks allegedly launched by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol on Saturday.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said in a statement houses in the government-held city had been hit by rockets fired by the rebels.

The Defence Ministry of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic denied responsibility for the attacks, calling the statement “clear misinformation”.

According to Mariupol police, an open-air market in a residential area in the east of the city had been hit by rockets presumably fired from Grad multiple rocket launchers. Pro-Russian rebel forces hold positions within 10 kilometers from Mariupol's eastern outskirts.

Mariupol, one of the key cities in in the Donetsk region that remains under government control, has a population of 500,000. The city lies on the Azov Sea and is considered of strategic importance as it is sitting between mainland Russia and the Crimean Peninsula annexed by Moscow in March.

The Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said it is looking into the circumstances of the reported artillery attack on Mariupol.

"Patrols of monitors have been sent to the shelling area in Mariupol to collect information. We will later issue an interim report on the situation," a mission spokesperson told Interfax-Ukraine.

Greece’s snap parliamentary elections on Sunday could bring to power Europe’s first radical leftist government, polls have shown.

The leftist anti-austerity party SYRIZA has widened its election lead, which is putting it on course for defeating the conservative New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the dominant force in a coalition government with Socialist party PASOK that has held power since June 2012.

A poll released by pollster GPO on Thursday gave SYRIZA a six-percentage-point lead over New Democracy. A week earlier, GPO had the lead at four percentage points.

According to an Alco poll released on Friday, Syriza has 32.9% support, giving it a 6.6 point lead - up from 5.2 points in a survey by the same pollster on Wednesday. Surveys by Kapa Research and MRB for Star TV put the difference between the two parties at 2.9 and 5.2 points, respectively. About 10% of those polled were undecided.

Under Greece’s election rules, a political party generally needs to win between 36% and 40% of the vote to secure a majority in the 300-seat one-chamber parliament.To enter parliament, a party needs a minimum of 3% of the vote. 

MPs are elected through a combined system of majority and proportional representation. The winning party is rewarded with a 50-seat bonus but needs 151 seats to form a majority.

According to analysts, SYRIZA will find it difficult to win outright majority amidst growing pressure from the EU and IMF to respect Grece’s commitment to austerity measures made in exchange for the EUR 240B bailout programme of the so-called troika – the EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB).

Media speculation has it that SYRIZA, or Coalition of the Radical Left, might prefer to enter a coalition government that would enable it to continue the structural reforms and budget cuts demanded by the international lenders.

To Potami, a new centrist party, has been widely seen as a potential ally of SYRIZA.

PASOK also could be an ally after Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos told Reuters earlier this week the party could support a government led by SYRIZA as part of a wider pro-euro alliance to steer Greece out of its bailout programme.

According to opinion polls, the anti-bailout Independent Greeks party has emerged as a potential coalition partner for SYRIZA. Since 15 January, 16 of 18 opinion polls have given the partythe minimum of 3% needed to enter parliament. 

Although it is centre-right party formed by rebels from New Democracy, the Independent Greeks share Syriza's opposition to the terms of the bailout programme.

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who has declared his intention to renegotiate and write off part of Greece’s massive debt and cancel the austerity measures, said on Thursday his party would restore "dignity" to the country. Greece’s debt totalled EUR 320B last year, almost EUR 30,000 per resident.

“History is knocking at our door,” he told thousands of cheering supporters in Athens on Thursday, appealing to all Greeks to vote to overthrow an establishment widely blamed for bringing the country to the point of economic and social collapse.

Greeks saw their income considerably reduced by heavy taxation and slashing of wages and pensions in recent years. The economy has shrunk by a quarter in less than five years – a rate of decline unseen in the modern era. Unemployment rate remains around 26% and almost three in every five young Greeks is jobless.

The possibility of a SYRIZA vote has sparked fears that Greece could default on its debt and exit the eurozone.

Unlike Tsipras, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has called on the Greek voters to "stay the course", pledging to take Greece out of the bailout programme early albeit with an extended line of credit.

Samaras has also said that that following years of austerity, Greece is now showing signs of recovery. Revenue from tourism is increasing, the government budget is showing a surplus and the country is no longer in recession.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has again called for restraint of all parties involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine following new killing of civilians in the Donetsk region.

“Our observations in Donetsk, Debaltseve and Volnovakha confirmed the injuries and loss of civilian lives during the past week,” the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine of the OSCE said in a statement on Saturday.

The monitoring mission particularly urged to abstain from the use of force, including the use of heavy weapons such as unguided Grad rockets and strongly condemned the continuation of the fighting in residential areas.

“Using residential areas as firing positions attracts counter-firing to these areas, further endangering the lives of civilians,” the monitoring mission said in a statement.

OSCE urged all parties to immediately stop the fighting and withdraw heavy weapons and armed units from the airport and from all adjacent residential areas of the city of Donetsk as agreed in the Minsk ceasefire deal.

Meanwhile, Kiev government forces and the pro-Russian rebels have continued trading blame for the latest escalation of fighting in the Donetsk region which has been the deadliest so far.

According to the United Nations, at least 262 people have been killed over the past nine days, taking the total death toll in the conflict to more than 5,000 people, many of them civilians. More than a million people have been displaced since fighting started in April 2014.

Rebels in eastern Ukraine on Friday vowed to extend their advances against government troops and boycott further peace talks. The announcement came dispute international calls to return to a ceasefire line agreed in Minsk in September.

The European Union called on Moscow to "assume its responsibility" to end the separatist war in Ukraine.

“Public statements distorting the reality on the ground, inciting to hatred and further violence, will not lead to the badly needed de-escalation,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Friday.

"Time is running out in eastern Ukraine where the escalation of fighting has caused far too many civilian as well as military casualties," Mogherini said in a statement.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations from the West that it is stoking the conflict in eastern Ukraine by supplying arms and even troops to the rebels. On Friday, President Vladimir Putin blamed Kiev for the latest escalation of fighting.

The five-member crew of a Maltese tanker vessel, including two Bulgarian nationals, has been arrested in Libya for alleged smuggling of oil products.

The Moldova-flagged ship, Sunoil I, and its crew were detained in Tripoli on 3 January, Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

The tanker sent a distress signal while sailing in the Mediterranean Sea and was towed to Tripoli by an Italian cargo ship. Libyan prosecutors charged the Sunoil I crew with smuggling of oil products.

The Bulgarian nationals are being held at a detention centre near the port of Tripoli, according to the Foreign Ministry. Their names were not disclosed.

Relatives of the two Bulgarians informed the ministry about their arrest on 3 January. The Bulgarian Embassy to Libya, which is temporarily operating from Tunisia, has asked Libya’s Embassy to Tunisia for assistance.

On 17 January, the Foreign Ministry contacted the Bulgarian citizens by phone and they said they were in good health.

Consular officials from Hungary and Italy visited the Bulgarian nationals at the police detention centre on 17 and 18 January and confirmed they were in good health and were treated well. Hungary and Italy are the only EU member states currently maintaining functioning diplomatic missions in the Libyan capital.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry approached the Libyan Embassy in Sofia on 21 January, seeking official information from the Libyan authorities and urging the immediate release of the two Bulgarian nationals. 

The market prices of dwellings in Bulgaria increased in the last three months of 2014, according to a study of the National Statistical Institute (NSI), which was released on Friday.

The prices of dwellings increased with 0.7 % compared to the preceding three-month period in 2014, and registered 1.2 % growth compared to the same period in 2013.

An increase has been registered in 13 of the regional centres and the district of Sofia, with Burgas, Stara Zagora and Ruse recording the most considerable growth in prices in the last three months of 2014.

The remaining 14 regional centres have registered a decrease in the prices of dwellings.

The average market price for dwellings in the country during the last three months of 2014 was BGN 874 per square metre.

The highest prices are recorded in the capital Sofia, followed by Varna and Burgas.

The average increase of the prices of dwellings in 2014 was 0.5 % compared to 2013.

The average market price for dwellings in the country in 2014 was BGN 869 per square metre.

The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Alexander Zakharchenko announced that his troops are on the offensive and the separatists are unwilling to hold truce talks with Ukraine.

Zakharchenko said that his forces, which are in control of the city of Donetsk, will push the front line back to the borders of the Donetsk region, the BBC reports.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine for the renewal of violence along the front and the “criminal” shelling of civilian areas.

At a meeting of the Normandy format, which took place in Berlin this week, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France issued a joint call for a ceasefire and the establishment of a demarcation line.

The latest surge in violence has centred around the airport of Donetsk, which is of high strategic and symbolic importance to both sides.

Ukraine announced that it withdrew its troops from the airport's main terminal on Thursday, but still retained some control over it.

Both sides continue to hurl accusations at each other for the renewed aggression, which continues to claim the lives of civilians.

The latest such incident was the shelling of a bus stop in Donetsk on Thursday, in which at least eight civilians were killed, according to the OSCE.

Bulgaria's Finance Ministry reversed its decision regarding the social insurance contributions of newly insured persons.

According to amendments that were hastily adopted at the end of 2014, those entering the labour market for the first time were provided with a period of one year to decide whether to contribute to a private pension fund or the solidarity fund of the National Social Security Institute (NOI).

The controversial changes were resisted by representatives of the private pension funds, the employers' organisations and the junior coalition partners from the Reformist Bloc (RB).

Hundreds of citizens submitted complaints to the Ombudsman, electronic daily Dnevnik reports.

The Finance Ministry published on its website on Friday proposals for new amendments to the Social Insurance Code, which foresee the reversal of its earlier decision.

According to the proposed changes, those entering the labour market for the first time will have a period of three months during which to choose a private pension fund.

In case the person fails to choose one, the allocation will happen automatically, which was the case before 31 December 2014.

This proposal coincides with the ideas suggested by MPs from the RB.

The draft texts also foresee that people insured in universal pension funds will have the right to transfer their contributions back and forth between NOI and the private funds, but no more than once a year.

The last such switch can be made five years before retirement.

These provisions are much more acceptable than the changes adopted in December, which established that the Council of Ministers is to define the rules for the transfer between funds.

The contributions for a second pension, which are transferred from a private fund to NOI, will go to the Silver Fund.

The contributions are to be stored in the Silver Fund until the retirement of the individual or until the person decides to transfer them back to a private fund.

This will guarantee that individual contributions will be preserved intact in the Silver Fund.

The Bulgarian Council of Ministers published its detailed governance programme on the government's website on Friday.

Although the programme was adopted on Wednesday, it was made public only after the first meeting of the Council for development, electronic daily Dnevnik reports.

The Council for development, which was established last week, is the body where parties of the ruling coalition will discuss contentious issues.

The programme has 177 pages and contains 21 chapters – each of them covering a certain policy area.

In the section on foreign policy, the government foresees strengthening Bulgaria's influence in the European institutions as well as establishment of trade relations with Russia and the major Asian countries.

As regards the economy and tourism, the cabinet will aim at attracting more high-income tourists and will provide bankrupted businessmen with a second chance.

The expenses on defence are set to increase to 2 % of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2018, while video surveillance will be increased in order to fight crime and ensure internal order.

The programme envisages reform of the museums and greater transparency of media ownership.

The improvement of the road infrastructure in northwestern Bulgaria is identified as one of the priorities of the government's regional policy.

As regards healthcare, the programme foresees that salaries of emergency medics will increase twofold.

The chapter on education provides an online system for external assessment and training of pupils through work experience.

For its social policy, the government foresees an increase in the weight of work experience from 2017 and less working poor.

As regards finances, there will be a new tax policy model.

In terms of energy, the South Stream project remains in the programme, as an official decision on its cancellation is still lacking, Deputy Prime Minister Rumyana Bachvarova said.

Bulgaria's Interior Minister Veselin Vuchkov announced during the parliamentary control on Friday that the summer floods caused damages amounting to EUR 400 M.

According to the estimates, the first wave of floods caused damages amounting to EUR 311 M, while the second wave resulted in damages amounting to EUR 79 M, Darik radio reports.

Bulgaria has requested financial aid from the European Union (EU) on two occasions and so far EUR 10.5 M have been allocated.

Vuchkov said that the approval of the sum, which was calculated on the basis of a methodology used by the EU, is forthcoming.

Bulgarian municipalities with refugee accommodation centers and those involved in integration programmes will receive significant subsidies.

This was announced by the chief secretary of the State Agency for Refugees (DAB) Zlatko Aleksandrov on Thursday, daily Standart reports.

Aleksandrov explained that the funding will be mainly allocated to infrastructure projects.

This was discussed at a meeting, which was held in Harmanl among representatives of state institutions, local government and regular citizens.

One of the investment projects foresees the construction of a new water treatment plant in Harmanli in 2015.

The State Agency also informed that full video surveillance will be provided.

On Thursday Harmanli mayor Hristo Liskov sent a letter to Bulgarian government representatives requesting that the refugee accommodation center in the city should be gated in order to prevent crime.

However Aleksandrov pointed out that this would be impossible as the conditions would be too harsh for refugees, especially for young children and mothers.

He also stated that the capacity of the Harmanli accommodation center, which currently hosts 1655 asylum seekers will be extended.

In addition, according to statement by the Chairman of the State Agency for Refugees Nikola Kazakov two new centres for accommodation of refugees will be built in southern Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, the debate concerning Bulgaria's capacity to accept more people with refugee statute is still ongoing.



According to a survey conducted among representatives of Bulgaria's CEIB, businesses will be more likely to resort to reducing their workforces instead of paying higher social insurance contributions to employees.

The Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria asked whether they would support a motion for an increase in insurance payments, 97.3% of respondents said that they would not, private NOVA TV station.

Business owners expressed the opinion that instead the Bulgarian government should work on improving collection from employers who commit tax violations.

They further stated that employees would most likely also oppose the change.

Bulgaria's Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Ivaylo Kalfin proposed increases in both the minimum wage and social insurance payments.

According to him, in case of a monthly salary of BGN 1000, employers will need to pay an additional BGN 3, while employees will have to contribute extra BGN 2.

The official decision is expected at the end of March, after a series of discussions among employers' organisations, trade unions and representatives of the government.


Bulgaria's Finance Ministry announced that each year around 1.2 million tonnes of diesel are not declared to the revenue agencies, which amounts to 36.2 % of the fuel consumption in the country.

The Ministry estimates that the losses to the budget from tax evasion and avoidance of excise duties amount to BGN 1.1 – 1.2 B, electronic daily Dnevnik reports.

In order to tackle these problems, Bulgaria established a connection between the National Revenue Agency (NAP) and the customs and introduced a system monitoring the fuel quantities at petrol stations.

However these measures, which were introduced in the beginning of 2013, have decreased the sales of fuels with unpaid excise duties and Value Added Tax (VAT) with only 6-7 %.

Around 30 % of consumed fuels continue to be sold without being taxed.

The supplies to recipients from the sectors of agriculture and transport, which are the largest consumers of diesel, remain most susceptible to such malpractices.

The Finance Ministry hopes that revenues will increase through the adopted amendments to the VAT Act, which entered into force on January 1.

The World Bank said on Friday Bulgaria could meet and even exceed economic growth forecasts this year.

The Bank will assist Bulgaria’s efforts to bolster economic growth, the Country Director for Central Europe and the Baltic Countries Ms Mamta Murthi said after talks with Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Sofia, according to the government's press office.

The World Bank Group said in its Global Economic Prospects report released last week that Bulgaria’s economy will expand by 1.1% in 2015, a smaller increase compared to the 1.4% growth rate predicted for last year.

The government has forecast real economic growth of 0.8% in the 2015 budget bill.

Borisov said that improving the business climate, transport infrastructure, the quality of the workforce and maintaining macroeconomic stability are among the priorities of the coalition government that took office in November.

On Tuesday, representatives of the Bulgarian government and businesses held their ninth annual meeting in Sofia, focusing on potential opportunities for spurring the country's economic growth.

Ms Murthi and Borisov also discussed opportunities for boosting regional economic development.

Bulgaria is the country that loses most revenues from illicit cigarettes in the European Union (EU) in relative terms, shows a study of Industry Watch, which was released on Thursday.

Illicit cigarettes cost 1.6 – 2 % of total tax revenues collected by the government and Bulgaria considerably exceeds all other EU member states in this indicator.

In relative terms, the losses suffered by Bulgaria are 3 times greater than in Romania and Poland, 10 times larger than in Germany and 16 times higher than in the Netherlands.

Excise duties on tobacco products generated a revenue of BGN 1.8 B in 2014, which amounted to 44.5 % of all excise duties and 6 % of all budget revenues.

This source of income provided 2.2 % of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

According to a study conducted by AC Nielsen in 2014, the share of illegally traded cigarettes in Bulgaria was 20 %, with the trend being for it to slightly increase in the past three years.

The uncollected tax revenues from the consumption of tobacco products amounted to BGN 450 M.

This amounted to 2 % of total tax revenues collected in Bulgaria and 0.6 % of the country's GDP in 2014.

Bulgaria is the EU member state in which the taxation of tobacco products has the largest significance for the execution of the state budget.

The consumption of illicit cigarettes is unevenly distributed between the large Bulgarian cities.

If the trade in illicit cigarettes in the ten most affected cities shrinks to the average for the country, the losses to the budget will decrease with ¼, which would amount to BGN 110 M additional revenues from excise duties and Value Added Tax (VAT).

In order to tackle this problem, Bulgaria launched a national information campaign against the trade of illegal tobacco products.

The campaign is the joint effort of the Bulgarian tobacco holding Bulgartabac, the Finance Ministry , the Customs Agency and associations of tobacco producers.

Its main slogan is “Don't buy contraband! It's harmful for everyone!”.

Bulgaria plans to propose to set up a centre for prevention of illegal arms trafficking through the Western Balkans as part of the European Union’s anti-terrorism effort, Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva said on Friday.

Following a meeting with EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove in Brussels, Kuneva said Bulgaria is preparing to make the proposal at a meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers in Riga next week.

Bulgaria is well situated and has the administrative capacity needed to set up such a centre, the government’s press office quoted Kuneva as saying.

Kuneva is in Brussels for meetings with key EU officials on measures to improve coordination between member states in tackling migration issues in the context of increased international threat of terrorism and the need to bolster security within the bloc’s borders.

Commenting on Bulgaria’s efforts to cope with the growing influx of refugees across its border with Turkey, Kuneva said that setting up gated refugee centres is only a temporary solution that can’t be a substitute for the integration of refugees.

It is the successful integration that can safeguard security, Kuneva said.

She also revealed that Bulgaria is working on a comprehensive plan for the integration of migrants who have been granted protection. The government is also preparing a final estimate of the funding under various EU programmes it would need for their successful integration.



Protesters from the Southwest Bulgarian village of Banya came to the streets on Friday to express their disagreement with a government project to build a landfill close to a historic monument.

Public dissatisfaction is caused by the fact that the landfill will be located next to a 17th century church of historic importance near the village of Debar.

The discussion has been ongoing for seven years now. Meanwhile, civil association Banenska Buna has filed several lawsuits against the municipality.

According to locals, the landfill could case a range of health problems and reduced tourism revenues.
Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki stated his support for the civil unrest.

Several of the previous protests over the matter have been organized by Bulgarian nationalist coalition Patriotic Front.

The Patriotic Front is a nationalist electoral alliance in Bulgaria around the political parties VMRO – Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO - Bulgarsko Natsionalno Dvizhenie) and National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB) and is currently supporting the governing party in Bulgaria, GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria).

Dzhambazki, Deputy Chair of the VMRO, has alerted the European Commission to the case and the official response is expected soon, as reported by the Bulgarian National Radio.

Bulgaria’s Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov will discuss anti-corruption policies with his Romanian counterpart  Robert-Marius Cazanciuc and other key officials tasked with fighting graft on Friday.

Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, are still being monitored through the EU’s so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) meant to bring their justice and home affairs systems in line with the bloc’s standards and help them fight corruption.

The European Commission is expected to publish its latest CVM report later this month.

Radan Kanev, co-leader of the Reformist Bloc that is part of Bulgaria’s minority coalition government, said earlier this month the report is expected to give a rather negative assessment of Bulgaria’s justice reform progress, particularly with regard to fighting high-level corruption.

According to Kanev, Romania’s judiciary has marked a "huge" success in fighting corruption, while Bulgaria is either lacking consistent anti-corruption policies or is displaying the reverse trend.

During his working visit to Bucharest Ivanov will discuss the anti-graft measures Romania is taking with the Chief Prosecutor of the National Anti-corruption Directorate Laura Kovesi and the President of the National Integrity Agency Horia Georgescu.

Hristov will also meet with Romania’s Prosecutor General Tiberiu Nitu and the President of the High Court of Cassation and Justice Livia Stanciu , the Justice Ministry in Sofia said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Ivanov said Bulgaria should set up a new body tasked with investigating high-level corruption as part of his broad plan for judicial reform.

Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva has also said that the country should follow Romania's example by establishing specialized investigation and prosecution bodies with similar powers if it wants to prevent and fight corruption successfully.

Over the past few years Romania has marked substantial progress in justice and rule of law by bolstering its judiciary, with a number of prominent politicians already sentenced and behind bars on corruption charges.

Romania’s progress has prompted Bulgaria's coalition government, which took office in November, to warn that the two countries could be decoupled as CVM subjects since Romania has been outpacing Bulgaria in reforming its judiciary to EU standards.

Representatives of major Turkish tour operators and travel agents will visit Bulgaria for a working meeting with Bulgarian colleagues to discuss the development of joint tourist products for far-off markets like China.

Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova summarized Thursday the outcome of her meeting with Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Abdurrahman Arıcı and Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas.

Arıcı and Topbas visited the Bulgarian stall at the “East Mediterranean International Travel & Tourism Exhibition 2015” (EMITT) in Istanbul, according to the press office of Bulgaria’s Tourism Ministry.

During Thursday’s meeting, Angelkova, Arıcı, and Topbas discussed the increased interest in Bulgaria as a tourist destination after the simplification of the visa issuance procedure.

Angelkova made clear that preliminary data indicated 30-40% year-on-year growth in the number of Turkish tourists in Bulgarian ski resorts.

She claimed that Turkish tour operators had boasted that they were already taking advantage of the opportunity to submit and receive tourist visas electronically within 1-2 days, adding that this helped Bulgaria gain ground on the Turkish market.

Angelkova said that she had agreed with Topbas to organize days of Bulgaria in Istanbul and days of Turkey in Sofia, adding that it was an opportunity to increase Bulgaria’s popularity in the country and to boost contacts between local and central authorities and between Bulgarian and Turkish business entities.

Bulgaria takes part in EMITT-2015 with a stall of nearly 100 square meters whose main organizer is the Tourism Ministry.
A total of 24 Bulgarian tourism companies, municipal administrations, and tourist associations are represented at the expo.

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev has suggested that 2015 is expected to be the strongest year in terms of EU funds absorption since Bulgaria’s EU accession.

In a Friday interview for the Bulgarian National Radio, Donchev vowed to put an end to administrative impunity in the sphere of EU-funded projects through an EU Funds Act.

“2015 is destined to be the year with the highest volume of payments and if we fail to stick to the most ambitious goals, the result will be a loss of funding. 2015 will be the last year of the previous programming period and the amount of money that we manage to pay out by the end of the year will determine the total amount paid out during the entire programming period. The sum of money that has to be paid out is impressive, at around BGN 4.5 B,” Donchev stated.

“Apart from that, we have the ambitious goal to start payments under the new programming period 2014-2020,” he noted, adding that the authorities planned to open procedures worth no less than BGN 6 B and to pay out no less than BGN 1.1 B.

“We realize that this is a tough challenge,” Donchev acknowledged, adding that plans for 2015 envisaged processing double the amount of money processed in 2014 by the same number of public officials.

He informed that work on the EU Funds Act had been restored, stressing that the new piece of legislation was to guarantee the sustainability of the system and to ensure a balance of the rights of the participants in the process.

Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister suggested that the EU Funds Act was to be enacted by the end of the ongoing political season.

He also spoke in favor of adopting a new Public Procurement Act as the existing one had been amended far too many times and it was difficult to keep track of all the changes.

Donchev argued that there was a good reason to adopt a new Public Procurement Act as Bulgaria was obliged to transpose EU directives in the sphere of public procurement by the beginning of 2016.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has died at the age of about 90, international news outlets reported on Friday.

The news prompted a rise in oil prices amid questions as to whether the king’s death could lead to a change in the oil policy of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is widely seen as the leader of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and has a large influence on energy prices and political stability in the Middle East.

Benchmark Brent crude for March delivery rose 84 cents to USD 49.36 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures exchange, while on the New York Mercantile Exchange West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for delivery in March traded at USD 47.10 a barrel, up 79 cents in midmorning trade on the Globex electronic session.

According to a statement from the Saudi royal court, Abdullah’s half-brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz,79, was declared king and Prince Muqrin, 69, became crown prince.

King Abdullah’s death is not expected to change the downward course of oil prices over the next several months, according to analysts. The newly proclaimed king has explicitly backed the current stance of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter.

The kingdom has been keeping oil output high even as the rest of the world is oversupplied with crude, which has led to a slump of nearly 60% in oil prices since June 2014.

But those low prices are also putting pressure on Saudi Arabia's budget and have drawn criticism from some members of the royal family. Saudi Arabia depends heavily on oil revenues to finance its government. According to Oxford Economies estimates the kingdom will have negative economic output in 2015 if oil continues to stay at or below USD 50 a barrel.

“Commodity markets might have a knee-jerk reaction but it will soon settle down,” according to Larry Goldstein, a veteran oil adviser at the US-based Energy Policy Research Foundation, quoted by the AP.

Simon Powell, head of Asia oil and gas at brokerage firm CLSA, also believes King Salman bin Abdulaziz will maintain his predecessor’s policy.

“The new King has been part of the ruling elite of princes for decades and he’s likely to continue the main thrust of Saudi policy,” said Powell, quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

Saudi Arabia has 16% of the world’s known oil reserves, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

South Stream Bulgaria AD, the company in charge of the implementation of the South Stream gas pipeline on Bulgarian territory, keeps functioning, according to Dimitar Gogov, CEO of the company.

In a Friday interview for the Bulgarian National Television, Gogov underscored that there was no official document indicating that the gas pipeline project had been suspended and therefore South Stream Bulgaria AD was still operational.

Govov, as cited by dnevnik.bg, pointed out that a number of procedures were underway that could not be stopped.

Asked to specify where the money was coming from, he said that the shareholders were providing the financing.

Gogov refused to comment on allegations distributed by various media outlets of the average wage at the company amounting to BGN 10 000.

South Stream Bulgaria AD was incorporated in 2010 over the implementation of the Bulgarian section of the South Stream gas pipeline.

Shareholders in the company are the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) and OAO Gazprom, each with a 50% share.

The termination of the South Stream gas pipeline project was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2014, when a new gas pipeline project from Russia to Turkey was presented.

“Technically speaking, the South Stream gas pipeline is not being built because construction works have not been launched. However, activities aimed at obtaining a final construction permit are underway,” Gogov specified.

Gogov noted that procedures for the purchase of easements had been launched in 37 municipalities and they could not be stopped.

“Although the project was cancelled on a political level, it will be in progress until the two shareholders decided that they are moving on to a new stage of the development of South Stream,” he declared.

Bulgaria’s top tennis player Grigor Dimitrov has defeated Cyprus’ Marcos Baghdatis, reaching the 1/8-finals of Australian Open.

Dimitrov took 3 hours and 30 minutes to win a five-set match 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 on day five of the Australian Open tournament.

10th seed Grigor Dimitrov will next plat Britain’s Andy Murray or Portugal’s Joao Sousa.

A 35-old-year man, who had barricaded himself in a house in the Sofia district of Gorna Banya after a quarrel with the neighbors, opened fire on the windows of his neighbors and a police patrol.

Slightly after 7 pm on Thursday, police received a tip-off for a man who was shooting at a house of his neighbors, most probably with an air gun, according to reports of Sega daily.

A team of police officers was dispatched to the site immediately and the area was sealed off.

Police officers found out that a 35-year-old man had locked himself in a room of his home and refused to go out.

At around 3 am on Friday, he climbed onto the roof of the house and started shooting at the police officers, causing minor injuries to one of them.

Once his bullets ran out, he started waving around a sword and a T-shirt with the Bulgarian flag.

Shortly after 6 am on Friday, the man turned himself in to the police, jumping from the roof of the house on a canvas.

He was taken away from the site on a stretcher.

He has been hospitalized and is condition is stable.

According to preliminary reports of the Sofia District Directorate of the Interior, as cited by the Focus news agency, the man was suffering from a mental illness.

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