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Close to 1,000 old cars that are no longer suitable for driving, are rotting on the streets of Sofia. This contributes to the already heavy traffic in the capital.

All cars that don't have up-to-date registration plates and that have not undergone technical inspections over the past two years are considered to be no longer used.

''The owners of 963 trashed vehicles have already received warning stickers on their front windows to the fact that they will be removed involuntarily. The owners could move their vehicles to a private owned location up to three months upon receiving the notification,'' said Polina Asenova in an interview for Pressa Daily.

Meanwhile, after the vehicles are eventually forcefully removed from municipal locations, the owners will have the opportunity to take them back in 14 days. In case they don't show up, the cars will be smashed and deposited for scrap metal.

In a mass action in Burgas several years ago, 700 parking spots in the city center were made available after the removal of old cars. Varna is in a similar situation with 1,354 warning notes, while Plovdiv's number remains much lower -120.

Over the past five years, inspectors from the Sofia municipality have identified close to 6,000 unused vehicles. As a result, 4,461 owners have reacted and removed them voluntarily, 119 have undergone technical check-ups and 428 vehicles have been destroyed. 

Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has argued the next government in Helsinki should bear in mind the option to seek NATO membership.

Upon taking office last year after the resignation of Jyrki Katainen, Stubb had ruled out any prospect that his cabinet might take such a step, even though some media reports suggested otherwise.

Meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday, the PM added: “I do not see Finnish NATO membership in the near future.”

Having a large border with Russia, Finland has been neutral since the World War Two and has been  willing to join neither the North Atlantic Treaty Organization nor the Warsaw Pact.

But in 2014 increased activities of Russia in the Baltic Sea region gave incentives to a renewed public debate as to whether Helsinki should aspire for NATO membership.

In an opinion poll quoted by YLE broadcaster's English-language version, 57% of respondents are against Finland joining NATO, while 27% support the move.

The survey published by prominent daily Helsingin Sanomat however adds an increased number of people now perceive Russia as a growing threat, with 21 percent completely agreeing and 40% agreeing "somewhat".

Deputy PM Meglena Kuneva, Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov and Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov joined efforts Thursday in the opening of Bulgaria in Schengen. It's Time! campaign.

The government representatives were present at the opening event at the Archeology Museum in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, BTA news agency reported.

''We are today's citizens of united Europe. We find the double standard surrounding Bulgaria's accession to the Schengen Area unacceptable," the campaign video stated. "As everyone else in our European family, we are obligated to care for our common home, but can not live freely in it. This is why we want to say that we are not and have never been secondhand Europeans."

The video depicts Bulgarians, some everyday citizens, some wearing national folklore attire, all smiling while the national flag is waving on the background, and is available in several different languages.

The leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES) Sergey Stanishev was among the main initiators of the campaign, further supported by the Bulgarian government.

''I am sure that now is not the time to use Schengen as a stimulus, given the terrorism threats. However, I am not denying that we must complete our reforms," said Deputy PM Meglena Kuneva.

She added that the wish for accession will only be successful when the public opinion on the matter becomes united. 

The non-governmental organization Save Sofia has sent a signal to Brussels on account of low quality renovation works in Bulgaria's capital. The project was executed in the Sofia municipality with EU funds.

The reconstruction procedure along Bulgaria Blvd's railway cost approximately BGN 7 M no VAT included.

The NGO activists have also attached photographs to their report that depict the low quality of the reconstruction - broken tiles, bus stop constructions, broken rails and dangerous drainage system covers along the pavement.

The signal has also been sent to OLAF - the European Anti-Fraud Office.

The construction company that executed the project is SK-13 Transstroi and the process has been supervised by the municipal company Sofinvest.

Additionally, Save Sofia has stated on its website that the further alarming fact is that the same company is responsible for the reconstruction works, currently taking place around the National Palace of Culture (NDK). 

Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov on Thursday discussed Eastring, a new Slovak proposal for diversifying gas supply infrastructure in Europe, with Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Mitov arrived on an official visit to Slovakia on Thursday at the invitation of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak.

The Slovak proposal is opening opportunities for gas supplies to Bulgaria from Northern and Western Europe.

In addition, Eastring could be connected to a potential gas hub in Turkey, enabling supplies from the Caspian basin, Iraq, Iran, and the Eastern Mediterranean via Bulgaria’s southern neighbour - if and when the Turkish Stream project is implemented, the Foreign Ministry in Sofia said in a statement.

Talks on the Slovak proposal will continue at the expert level in Bulgaria on Friday.

During his meeting with Miroslav Lajcak Daniel Mitov said Bulgaria is ready to set up a gas hub in Varna and take part in the implementation of the EU’s strategic energy initiatives such as the construction of a Southern Gas Corridor, providing access to liquefied natural gas, building interconnectors along the North-South axis, and the Vertical Gas Corridor initiative for reverse-flow transit in Central and Eastern Europe.

Regarding the migration wave to the EU and Bulgaria in particular, Mitov said he relies on Slovakia's support for Bulgaria's call for developing a new refugee and migration policy of the bloc and increased EU assistance for accommodation of refugees.

The two foreign ministers also discussed bilateral cooperation within the framework of the Slovak Chairmanship of the Visegrad Group in the V4+ format. Bulgaria is interested in expanding cooperation in energy, employment and social policy, and tourism within this format, Mitov said.

 

The gender pay gap varies significantly across EU Member States, the bloc’s statistical office said on Thursday.

According to new Eurostat data, in 2013, women's gross hourly earnings were on average 16.4% below those of men in the 28 European Union member states and 16.6% in the 17 countries of the eurozone.

In Bulgaria, women's gross hourly earnings in 2013 were 13.5% lower than those of men, a slight increase compared to 12.3% in 2008.  

Across EU member states, the gender pay gap ranged from 3.2 % in Slovenia to 29.9 % in Estonia

There are various reasons for the existence and size of a gender pay gap and they may differ strongly between member states, depending on kind of jobs held by women, consequences of breaks in career or part-time work due to childbearing and decisions in favour of family life, Eurostat explained.

Moreover, the proportion of women working and their characteristics differ significantly between countries, particularly because of institutions and attitudes governing the balance between private and work life which impact on the careers and thus the pay of women.

In 2013, most EU countries for which figures are available recorded a higher gender pay gap in the private sector than in the public sector, possibly due to the fact that within the public sector of those countries employees are protected by collective pay contracts and similar agreements.

The opposite was observed in several EU countries including Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Finland. The gender pay gap in Bulgaria’s private sector was 12.4% in 2013, while in the public sector it was 17.5%.

Kazakhstan on Thursday temporarily banned imports of cheap Russian diesel fuel and petrol to avert surplus and keep its own oil refineries running.

According to Deputy Minister for Energy Magzum Mirzagaliyev, the ban will be in force for the next 45 days.

The Russian rouble lost nearly half of its value against the US dollar last year due to Western economic sanctions and the slump in oil prices. The weakened currency benefited Russian exports of petrol and diesel fuel to Kazakhstan over the past two months, raising concerns of oversupply and denting profits at Kazakh oil refineries which can meet up to two-thirds of the country's fuel needs.

According to Kazakhstan’s Energy Ministry, the country plans to import 1.1 million tons of duty-free petrol and 760,000 tons of diesel fuel from Russia. In January alone, however, petrol imports from Russian suppliers totalled 182,000 tons, double the planned volume for the month.

In order to make sure Kazakhstan could import the rest of the volume more evenly throughout  2015 and thus prevent fuel shortages, the government had decided to introduce the ban, Mirzagaliyev explained.

Kazakhstan’s oil and gas company KazMunayGas earlier said cheap Russian petrol imports may force Kazakhstan’s three oil refineries to suspend production. 

Kazakhstan is member of Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union – a free-trade alliance that currently also includes Armenia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan.

Bulgarian authorities have drafted a new plan for the integration of refugees that calls for providing them with access to the country’s labour market, Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva said on Thursday.

Providing Bulgarian language teaching services to refugees as well as acknowledgement of their education degrees and working skills certificates are also parts of the plan, Kuneva said at a conference on the integration of refugees held in Sofia.

Giving refugees the right to rent housing from private property owners and search for jobs at the offices of the government’s Employment Agency are among the measures in the draft. Under the plan, the legal refugees will also be required to pay health insurance contributions.      

Kuneva, however, stopped short of announcing what the cost of the proposed measures might be.

“The issue of financing is making us cautious and refrain from unveiling it [the plan] at the moment,” she said.

Refugee centres in Bulgaria currently provide shelter to 3,800 migrants, including 700 who had been granted a refugee status, the head of the State Agency for Refugees Nikola Kazakov said at the event.

According to Kazakov, local governments in Bulgaria will have to bear around 60% of the responsibilities relating to the integration of refugees under the plan.

A code red warning has been issued for Friday in two municipalities in the south of Bulgaria, the national meteorology institute has announced.

In the regions of Smolyan and Kardzhali, snowfall of up to 70 l/sqm is expected, according to the National Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology at the Bulgarian Academy of Science.

A code orange warning is to be in force in four other municipalities (Pazardzhik, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora and Haskovo) over heavy snow and strong winds.

This means most of Southern Bulgaria could be covered in snow on Friday, with the exception of areas near the Black Sea.

A yellow code has been declared for most of the western and northwestern areas of the country.

The warnings come amid a new cold spell that followed days of spring-like weather conditions.

Ukraine has paid in advance USD 15 M to Russia for natural gas purchases that will meet  its needs for five days, Gazprom has said.

Last month Ukraine’s Naftogaz pre-paid to Russia’s Gazprom for supplies that would run out on Friday.

"Naftogaz transferred million as a prepayment for March deliveries. These funds reached Gazprom's accounts today. This amount will cover 45.6 million cubic meters of gas,”RIA Novosti quoted Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov as saying on Thursday.

Ukraine has been paying in advance for Russian gas since October 2014 after Gazprom halted deliveries last summer over unpaid debt owed by Naftogaz. The  agreement for advance payments between Naftogaz and Gazprom will expire next month.

 

After a landslide in the area of ​​the Kresna Gorge, a stretch of highway E-79 between Sandanski and Kulata was closed Thursday.

No injuries have been reported at this time and no cars have passed in the critical section of the motorway in the Blagoevgrad municipality.

Torrential rains have managed to break the landslide preventative net.

Traffic is re-routed along the so-called small tunnel in the gorge and is regulated by traffic policemen.

Regional Road Management Office representatives advise drivers to move cautiously along the circuitous route - in the old lane parallel to the main road. The motorway surfaces are all wet and pose danger for drivers.

The now world-known street musician Dub FX is to perform live for the Bulgarian audience on June 13 in Sofia.

The perfomer has been invited by Event Ease for a live show in Bulgaria's capital to present his brand new album Theory of Harmony.

Benjamin Stanford comes from Australia and is a musical phenomenon, a symbol of the new-wave music and contemporary urban culture. He became famous after playing live on the streets of Australia and attracting attention through his talent and the unique blend of voice, beatbox and his very own loop station.

His new album again carries positive and energetic vibes. The tracks In My Head, Run and Back to Basics all aim at conveying a feeling of justice, freedom and joy. The songs carry socially-conscious messages and appeals to every person to reach a state of ''individual revolution'', i.e. to become a free spirit. 

Dub FX mixes beatbox, dubstep, drum and bass, reggae and hip hop to create a unique experience for audiences across the globe. He is the epitome of an artist independent of labels who uses solely the power of Internet communications in order to distribute his music through free samples and believes it is important that every person interested should have access to it.

 

Bulgaria's top judicial body has rejected the resignation of Petyo Petyov, who heads the Sofia Investigative Service.

The motion was tabled on Thursday morning by Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov, but was turned down by an overwhelming majority at the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS): 12-4, 2 abstained.

The watchdog, which includes judges and prosecutors, argued Petrov's resignation would hinder prospective disciplinary action against him, according to Dariknews.bg.

Petrov will now retain a post.

He is subject to a probe over an affair that involves former Defense Minister Nikolay Tsonev and two other officials.

Under a ruling of the Supreme Court of Cassation (VKS) Petrov provoked Tsonev, a Finance Ministry official and a judge to pay a bribe.

No results of an inspection started into the case have yet been made public.

VSS members later came under fire from Tsatsarov, saying the judicial body should have launched disciplinary action well beforehand.

A fight has broken out in Bulgaria's Parliament following a bitter dispute between the two nationalist parties, government supporter Patriotic Front (PF) and opposition Ataka.

The fist fighting began on Thursday afternoon, after Dimitar Bayraktarov, from PF, accused Ataka's leader Volen Siderov of "defending the US" in an article dating back in the 1990s.

This was followed by an attack on Bayraktarov from various Ataka members, including Desislav Chukolov, who is in Siderov's "inner circle" within the parliamentary group.

The episode prompted lawmakers to end their Thursday session ten minutes earlier than planned.

Siderov is the founder and chairman of Ataka, a party with an explicitly Russophile position calling on Bulgaria not to side with the EU and NATO on a number of energy, defense and foreign-policy issues.

Prior to adopting his pro-Russian stance and spearheading the once popular party, Siderov was known as a vehement defender of Bulgaria's Western orientation.

 

Bulgarian National Assembly has created a temporary committee to review the facts and circumstances around the actions of government institutions that had to oversee developments at Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) in the period 2009-2014.

The decision was taken in Parliament Thursday after an agreement document has been signed by all political parties.

The document allege that "The fund leak in KTB that has led to its bankruptcy is the most massive financial fraud in the new history of Bulgaria... As a result, over BGN 4 B have been spent from the Bulgarian Deposit Insurance Fund, as well as additional funding from the state budget has also been used. A number of people who had deposited their money in the bank have irreversibly lost it.''

Meanwhile, last October the interim budget committee approved amendments to the Credit Institutions Act, obligating Bulgaria's Central bank (BNB) to save banks whose capital becomes a negative quantity, thus approving the KTB bailout.

The main reason was stated to be the fact that a number of Bulgarian national companies and municipalities had deposits in the bank.

Among the motifs for the committee formation on Wednesday was also stated to be the role of the Banking Supervision unit to the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB). It has been pointed out that it remains unclear whether the lack of action on its part has been a result of individual mistakes or systematic problems.

The State agency for National Security (DANS) has also been blamed on account of lack of prompt action on its part.



Societe Generale Expressbank and the „Regional Urban Development Fund“ AD have granted an 8-year investment loan of over EUR 14 M to Plovdiv-based bread and bakery products manufacturer Simid Agro EOOD under the Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas (JESSICA) initiative.

The co-financing for the project provided by the bank is worth EUR 9 586 451, according to reports of money.bg.

Simid Agro EOOD is the largest manufacturer and distributor of fresh baked and frozen bakery in Bulgaria.

The loan will be used to build a modern energy-efficient plant for frozen bakery products and to buy new equipment in Industrial Zone Plovdiv South.

The company now has 2 production lines for frozen bakery in its Plovdiv-based plant.

However, the existing production capacity is insufficient to meet the growing demand for frozen bread products by major retailers and their stores in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia, and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

Under the project, the new plant is to have a capacity of 8 production lines, with 5 production lines to be purchased, including ones for the production of standard bread, baguettes, Semmel, croissants, and other pastry.

The project is to create jobs related to the construction of the plant, as well as specialized jobs for over 220 people after the launch of the unit.

In the long term, the project is to boost the economic growth and the competitiveness of the region of Industrial Zone Plovdiv South.

There has been intense activity at the Air Force base in Diyarbakir, Turkey, as Ankara is considering whether to help Iraq in the fight against Islamic State, media sources say.

Aircraft are being regularly scrambled, and troops have been instructed to "react" in case of hostility from IS, according to reports.

This comes following a hint from Turkish officials that the country was willing to support a Iraqi operation to retake the city of Mosul, which fell to militants from the Islamic State (IS) group last year.

Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu made clear Wednesday Ankara might back an operation against IS in Mosul, though he made clear it "will only respond if there is a direct attack on Turkey," as Hürriyet Daily News quoted him as saying.

In his statement Davutoglu also rebuked the US-led coalition's strategy to "clean up" IS, explaining: "the fire is at our border and it is us that it burns the most."

Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz later announced that Ankara was ready to provide Iraq with logistic and intelligence support.

Meanwhile Turkish F-16 airplanes are reportedly performing reconnaissance flights along the Turkey-Iraq border, according to an Istanbul-based correspondent for the Bulgarian National Radio.

This comes against the backdrop of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Saudi Arabia where he is to meet counterparts from the anti-IS coalition to discuss the latest developments.

Westinghouse Electric Company's fuel at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant's Unit 3 has performed flawlessly over at least three nuclear cycles, the company has said in a statement.

Inspections at the Yuzhno-Ykrainskaya (South Ukraine) NPP included the examination of six Westinghouse fuel assemblies between February 15 and March 1 of this year.

"Following comprehensive inspections of all nuclear fuel at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, it has been concluded by joint Energoatom and Westinghouse experts that the Westinghouse fuel has performed exactly to specification and has not exhibited any flaws in its operation, as expected," in the words of Yves Brachet, Westinghouse President Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region.

Following the inspections, 42 fuel assemblies delivered last autumn will be loaded into Unit 3 in the days to come.

Westinghouse Electric Company presently provides 145 plants around the world with nuclear fuel, 65 of them in Europe.

In December of last year, it signed with Ukraine's nuclear utility Energoatom a contact extension of fuel supply to VVER 1000 reactors. The company will now provide increase volumes of fuel by 2020.

According to unconfirmed information, there already is a suspect held on account of the murder of 23-year old student Viktoriya Zdravkova in Veliko Tarnovo.

The local Police Office is currently investigating a man under the nickname Slona (The Elephant) who most probably also has an accomplice, NOVA TV reported. It is believed that the reason for the murder has been theft.

Zdravkova was coming back home from work on February 28, and was crossing a bridge using a dangerous shortcut with no street lights. She has been reported missing on March 1, after her parents made a number of attempts to get hold of her.

Police officers and firefighters have been involved in the search operation, and her body was eventually found in Yantra River, near the area of the local railway station on March 3.

Citzens have been protesting in Veliko Tarnovo over the past few days demanding that the municipality should install street lightning in the area.

''This route is often used by students, so we demand that preventative measures are taken in order to avoid further tragedies,'' said Petko Ganchev, one of the organizers of a petition submitted to local authorities.

The civil committee also made a proposal for a police car to patrol the dangerous area.

The Veliko Tarnovo University announced a Day of Mourning in honor of Zdravkova, who was a student there.



The Bulgarian government sees no alternative to Russian gas supplies to Europe and is ready to examine the terms of receiving deliveries via Turkish Stream, according to Deputy Prime Minister Ivaylo Kalfin.

"Europe is now trying to limit the supply of Russian gas. However, there is no alternative at the moment. This is the position of the Bulgarian government and this is why we need to work together to ensure the most mutually beneficial terms of the supply of Russian gas to Europe " Kalfin said, as cited by Interfax and the BGNES news agency.

Kalfin, who arrived in Moscow on March 3, spoke after a meeting with Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Council of the Federation Committee on Foreign Affairs.

He claimed that Bulgaria planned to examine the terms and conditions under which Russia intended to transport gas to Turkey.

Kalfin stressed Bulgaria’s readiness to bring up these issues on an EU level to discuss the possibility of restoring the Nabucco gas pipeline project.

Workers at the waste management company in Vidin launch a strike on account of unpaid salaries.

Ot of all 114, 103 people have started the effective protest Wednesday, as reported by the Bulgarian National Radio.

They have not received their salaries for 8 months now. Additionally, the agreement between the syndicates and the employer for the payment of the delayed amounts has not been complied with.

''The situation is unbearable,'' said Snejanka Nikolova, who has been working for the company over the past twelve years now. ''There is nothing to eat. We are gathering our last coins to get a loaf of bread in the store. We just can't take it any more.''

For the period of the strike, only the areas around hospitals, mnedical facilities, schools and kidergartens will be cleaned.

''With all the taxes and pension insurances, salaries that are due to be paid in Vidin, the sum amounts to BGN 750, 000,'' said waste management company representative Valeri Yordanov. ''The cash payments that our company still needs to receive from the Vidin municipality is BGN 1,4 M.''

The Vidin municipality denied owing money to the waste management company. It was, however, stated that the money the municipality has transferred have probably been stopped at the National Revenue Agency, on account of unpaid taxes.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has already demanded the resignations of Interior Ministry Chief Secretary Svetlozar Lazarov and counter-intelligence head Vladimir Pisanchev.

Borisov earlier explained he would take the step on a cabinet meeting Friday or Wednesday, after having insisted for weeks that neither Pisanchev nor Lazarov should be replaced.

His clash with ex-Interior Minister Veselin Vuchkov, who insisted on the reshuffles, led on Wednesday to the latter's resignation.

The Prime Minister was quick to interpret Vuchkov's move as "incorrect" and hinted it might have been inspired by the opposition, or as he put it: "colleagues from the [Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and Ataka"].

The first two parties formed in 2013-2014 the previous elected government, while nationalist Ataka was considered to be a "kingmaker" helping the socialist-liberal axis to cling to power.

"I told him [junior coalition partner Reformist Bloc's co-Chair Radan Kanev] that on Thursday I will come to Parliament, I will announce the resignations, I will demand the resignations of Pisanchev and Lazarov."

Kanev has been among the most fervent critics of the two top cadres. On Wednesday he said Vuchkov should be talked into staying in the government.

In Borisov's words, he is forced to take the step to fend off doubts that he is keeping the two on their posts "not for stability, but because he is dependent."

Borisov also proposed Deputy PM Rumyana Bachavarova as Vuchkov's most likely successor.

On Thursday Kanev, speaking for the Bulgarian National Radio, said that Bachvarova's candidacy is a "strong one."


The Sofia District Military Prosecutor’s Office has pressed charges against Stoyan Tonev, former director of the Military Medical Academy (MMA) in Sofia and former MP from ruling party GERB, for deliberate mismanagement and conclusion of disadvantageous contracts.

According to the prosecuting authority, Tonev allowed financial damages to be incurred at the MMA in the period November 2004 – December 2007 as a result of two disadvantageous contracts with a private company.

Tonev resigned from the post of MP and left the parliamentary health committee over scandalous revelations about deals during his term in office at the MMA.

A report of the Defense Ministry indicated that the Clinic of Dermatology at the MMA had brought losses of around BGN 10 M for the hospital during Tonev’s term in office as head of the MMA.

The losses were generated at the expense of the profit of a private company operating at the dermatology unit of the hospital.

The contract between the private firm, Derma Prim, and the MMA, was signed 11 years ago, at the time when Tonev was head of the hospital.

Instead of fetching revenues for the hospital, the partnership with the private company only incurred losses.

The Director of the Clinic of Dermatology at the MMA, Prof. Miroslava Kadurina, controls an 84% stake of Derma Prim.

Director of the temporary refugee center in Harmanli, Marko Petrov has been suspended from office Thursday.

The order was given by the Chair of the State Agency for Refugees with the Council of Ministers in Bulgaria, Nikola Kazakov on February 27.

Petrov, howoever, was not available to receive the suspension letter last month. After the legally appointed term, the suspension has entered into force despite the fact that it has not been officially received.

The Harmanli refugee camp has undergone a series of inspections, after which violations have been established.

Several clashes have happened between refugees and Harmanli citizens over the past several months. As a result, Harmanli Mayor Hristo Liskov stated that the temporary refugee camp in the city should become gated.

According to preliminary information, the former director of the Harmanli refugee camp, Yordan Malinov, will be restored to his previous position. 

In the words of Marko Petrov, he has never been notified of the suspension. He stated that he believed the reason for the decision to be political so that the ruling center-right GERB party could restore its previous staff members on their former positions. 

Mining production in Bulgaria will drop by 5-10% in 2015, according to Lachezar Tsotsorkov, Chair of the Management Board of the Bulgarian Chamber of Mining and Geology.

In a Thursday interview for the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), Tsotsorkov said that the unfavorable tendencies that had started in 2014 were most likely to remain in place in 2015.

Among the negative trends he listed low prices of basic raw materials and of items traded at the commodity exchange, low rates of economic growth in key world economies, and a reduction in raw materials demand, stressing that they were expected to persist over the next decade.

Meanwhile, Ivan Boykov, Executive Director of the Bulgarian Construction Chamber, told BNR that he was hoping for growth in the construction sector due to the support of the state.

“Operational programs expire in 2015. We need to absorb a remaining sum of over BGN 2.5 B under OP Environment and under OP Regional Development, we need to make sure that three motorways start functioning, and a home energy retrofit program is starting,” he stated.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov announced Thursday that he will propose Rumyana Bachvarova for the position of Minister of the Interior to replace Veselin Vuchkov after his resignation.

Borisov made the announcement at his unexpected visit to Bulgarian Parliament. He said that he will make the proposal for the new minister position to stop speculations on the matter.

''I have always said that the stability in the upcoming months after several interim governments is of vital importance,'' Borisov stated. ''The resignation submitted by Vuchkov was extremely incorrect to me and to the government.''

The Prime Minister also announced that he will demand the resignations of both Svetlozar Lazarov and Vladimir Pisanchev. The proposal will be made at the next sitting of the Council of Ministers.

''I will demand their resignations right here at the the next sitting of the Council of Ministers,'' Borisov added. ''Because as it appears in the outside world, there are affairs happening behind closed doors. This is what put me out of balance, I can't bear it.''

He, however, noted that there should be no suspicion left on the decent and diligent work done by both Lazarov and Pisanchev.

Borisov added that his proposal for Bachvarova for the position of Interior Minister will aim at guaranteeing stability and civil support. He expressed a hope that this will lead to a ''stop of the manipulations, that many people submit to.''

Petyo Petrov, outgoing head of the Sofia Investigative Service, has asked permission to leave the judicial system.

At the beginning of Thursday’s meeting of the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS), Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov announced that he had received Petrov’s letter of resignation, adding that he had asked to leave the judicial system as of April 5, according to reports of the Legal World magazine, as cited by Sega daily.

Petrov told journalists that he was resigning for personal reasons and that his decision had nothing to do with the probe launched at the entity after the final acquittal of the Supreme Court of Cassation (VKS) on the bribery case against former Defense Minister Nikolay Tsonev, former Finance Ministry official Tencho Popov, and judge Petar Santirov.

Petrov resigned from the post of head of the Sofia Investigative Service in early February, after the publication of the final acquittal of VKS on the bribery case.

He has been on a leave since the beginning of February, according to reports of mediapool.bg.

Under the ruling of VKS, Petrov, a key witness of the prosecuting authority in the case against Tsonev, Popov, and Santirov, provoked the defendants to pay a bribe.

After VKS came up with a ruling on the case, the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassation launched a probe into the matter upon Petrov’s request.

It is unclear whether the inspection of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassation has been wrapped up.

Two specialized vehicles for transportation of food and beverages will be purchased by Bulgaria's National Assembly. The total cost is projected to be BGN 416, 667.

The information was released through the preliminary announcements for tenders for 2015, as reported by 24Chasa daily.

According to the record, additional BGN 70, 000 have been allocated to the delivery of light food and beverages, 131,000 to sanitary supplies, and last but not least additional BGN 160,000 will be spent on notebooks, calendars and luxury envelopes.

Additionally, flower arrangements will also be included in the expense bill with BGN 150, 000.

The maintenance and insurances of the newly-purchased 100 government cars will require the allocation of BGN 275, 000.

New paper-folding and book-stitching machines will also be purchased at a cost of BGN 200, 000, as well as 50 new PCs, printers, scanners, hard disks, even servers to come to a total of additional BGN 184, 000.

Two of the chambers of the National Assembly will also have video cameras installed, featuring a digital discussion system to allow voting. In this way, the sittings of Parliamentary commissions could be directly broadcast online. The total cost of the project is estimated at BGN 350, 000.

The biggest portion of expenses is however allocated to contracts for the delivery of electricity, central heating and water at a total cost of over BGN 2,2 M, as per the new Bulgarian law amendments.



Deputy Prime Minister Rumyana Bachvarova stated Thursday that the resignation of Minister of the Interior Veselin Vuchkov submitted the day before came as a surprise.

She added in an interview for NOVA TV station Thursday that PM Boiko Borisov was not expecting such a development either.

''In this way, the resignation blurred all of yeasreday's events,'' she added. ''I can assure you that the resignation came as a surprise to everyone. It was submitted in a way that it could not possibly be deemed acceptable. It seemed more like an attempt to influence the Prime Minister.''

Bachvarova stated that Borisov never claimed that he would be unwilling to substitute Chairman of the State agency for National Security (DANS) Vladimir Pisanchev and Interior Minister's Chief Secretary Svetlozar Lazarov on their positions.

After a number of heated debates Wednesday, analysts and MPs largely claimed that the reluctance of PM Borisov to substitute the two figures has been the reason for the resignation.

''It would be better for the shift to not happen so fast,'' Bachvarova added. ''He could substitute them in the moment that is most suitable.''

It is expected that later on today, the full details of the Vuchkov resignation will be revealed and the official decision will be made on whether it will be accepted or not. 

The U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was injured in an attack by a man wielding a knife on Thursday in Seoul.

Lippert, 42, was slashed in the face during a forum held in Soul on Korean reunification.

The attacker, a 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong, was shouting anti-war slogans.

Doctors announced later on Thursday that the condition of the US envoy was stable, adding that he had undergone surgery requiring 80 stitches in his face.

"This incident is not only a physical attack on the U.S. ambassador, but an attack on the South Korea-U.S. alliance and it can never be tolerated," South Korean President Park Geun-hye declared after the attack, according to reports of CNN.

The 55-year-old attacker was reported to have a history of unstable behavior.

In 2010, he received a suspended two-year prison sentence for throwing a piece of concrete at a Japanese Ambassador to South Korea.

Bulgarian trade unions have opposed a decision of the Interministerial Council on Defense Industry and Security of Supply at the Council of Ministers to terminate the license of Dunarit AD Ruse for the import, export, and transfer of arms.

Ruse-based Dunarit AD is a major manufacturer of military and machine- engineering products.

The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Podkrepa Labor Confederation have risen against the step, insisting that it will leave 750 people unemployed, according to reports of Sega daily.

The two trade unions have outlined the situation at the arms factory in a letter to the President, the Prime Minister, and the Economy Minister.

Workers at Dunarit have said they are ready to launch a strike.

According to the letter of the two trade unions, the decision to terminate the license of the Ruse-based factory has been motivated with “violated economic stability and reliability”.

They underscore that the conclusion would be ridiculous to anybody familiar with the economic situation at the company that makes an annual profit of over BGN 10 M.

Dunarit AD functions in line with NATO standards and exports output to Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The two trade unions demand an urgent meeting with the co-chairs of the Interministerial Council on Defense Industry and Security of Supply at the Council of Ministers, Economy Minister Bozhidar Lukarski, and Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov arrived Thursday on an official visit to Slovakia at the invitation of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak.

Mitov and Lajcak are to discuss the current state of bilateral relations and opportunities for expanding them in a number of different spheres with an emphasis on energy cooperation, according to the press office of Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry, as cited by dnevnik.bg.

The talks will focus on topics such as cooperation between Bulgaria and Slovakia within the "V4+" (The Visegrad Group) and topical issues on the European and international agenda.

During his visit to Slovakia, Mitov will meet with President Andrej Kiska, Prime Minister Robert Fico, and Jana Laššáková, Deputy Chair of the National Council of the Slovak Republic and Chair of the Friendship group Bulgaria – Slovakia.

EU member states on Wednesday proposed to postpone scrapping mobile roaming charges by three years until 2018 at least.

At present, mobile phone customers in the EU face extra roaming charges for calls, text messages or internet usage in member states other than their own. 

The 28-nation European Union has been cutting the charges in response to complaints from customers. The European Parliament last year approved a package that would have abolished the charges altogether from the end of 2015, reflecting the widespread push for a European digital single market.

Now, the European Council has decided to send the package back to Parliament for further consideration, saying that a new pricing mechanism, to be introduced from mid-2016, should lead to lower costs for consumers.

"Within certain limits to be determined, consumers could make and receive calls, send SMSs and use data services without paying anything extra on top of the domestic fee. Once this basic roaming allowance is used up, the operator may charge a fee but this fee will be much lower than current charges," the European Council said in a statement.

As the next step, the European Commission will be asked to assess by mid-2018 what further measures may be needed with a view to phasing out roaming charges.

There are three potential successors to Interior Minister Veselin Vuchkov, 24 Chasa daily reported on Wednesday, several hours after Vuchkov resigned.

According to unofficial preliminary information, the potential candidates are Yordan Bakalov, Kalin Georgiev and Metodi Andreev, 24 Chasa said.

The nomination of Vuchkov’s successor should be made by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov who has already accepted Vuchkov’s resignation.

Kalin Georgiev was Interior Ministry Chief Secretary in Borisov’s previous government (2009-2013). Prevoiusly, he headed the Criminal Police Chief Directorate.

Yordan Bakalov was Interior Minister in the caretaker cabinet of Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki that governed for several months last year before the snap elections that brought to power Borisov’s centre-right GERB party.

Metodi Andreev, a former head of the Files Commission, the body investigating the secret files of the Communist-era State Security police, currently is a member of Parliament from GERB.

 

It is “premature” to talk of a third bailout for Greece, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday, playing down talk of a new rescue package being considered for the debt-ridden eurozone member.

"We are going to focus on implementing what was agreed in the Eurogroup," Juncker said at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels.

Angela Merkel also warned against speculation that Greece will need a third financial bailout now that the current programme had been extended by four months.

"We are currently doing all that we possibly can to ensure that the second programme be successful," Merkel said

The German parliament last month approved the decision of eurozone finance ministers to extend Greece’s current bailout programme until June, “so we now need to implement what was agreed in the Eurogroup", said Merkel

On Monday, Spain's Economy Minister Luis de Guindos suggested that the eurozone was talking about another bailout for Greece. He later backtracked on his statement, saying the prospect of a third rescue package was hypothetical.

Also on Monday, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras denied his country needed a new bailout deal.

Bulgaria’s Cash Credit has joined forces with Philippines-based Voyager Innovation to offer mobile-based microfinance services in the Asian country.

Announcing its strategic partnership agreement with Cash Credit, Voyager Innovation said in a statement the partners will jointly aggressively rollout a mobile-based microfinance program within the first half of the year, applying big data analytics to offer innovative financial services to Smart’s combined subscriber base of over 75 million.

Under the agreement, Cash Credit will bring its expertise on lending to individuals through innovative partnerships with mobile network operators around the world.

“Cash Credit’s pioneering expertise in aggregating, analyzing and applying data to offer innovative microfinance solutions will further promote electronic financial access among the underbanked and unbanked segments of the Philippine’s population,” Voyager Innovation president and CEO Orlando Vea said in the statement.

"We look forward to working with Voyager and Smart in helping them attract and retain customers with our innovative financial solutions,” Cash Credit’s Founder and Executive Chairman Georgi Krumov commented.

Voyager Innovation, 100% owned by Smart Communications, is focusing on creating platforms and solutions for digital commerce.

Smart Communications is a unit of PLDT, the leading telecommunications services provider in the Philippines. PLDT is among the companies with the largest market capitalization listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange. Its American Depositary Shares are listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Cash Credit is a tech-based non-banking financial institution founded in 2011 in Bulgaria. It works in partnership with mobile network operators to offer micro financial services to mobile subscribers.

At least 110 Bulgarians will represent the country in the first European Games, which are scheduled to take place in Baku between June 12 and 28.

For some of the sports, such as wrestling and judo, the continental games will have the status of European championship.

Quotas for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be allocated in twelve sports, daily Dnevnik reports.

Bulgaria's Sports Ministry promised to allocate BGN 1 M for the participation of Bulgarian athletes, but according to the Bulgarian Olympic Committee (BOC) the funds will not be sufficient.

The General Secretary of BOC Belcho Goranov expressed the Committee's readiness to cover the remainder of the expenses through its own resources.

Goranov added that the European Games will be used as an opportunity for gathering experience and the winning of as many Olympic quotas as possible.

In volleyball, Bulgaria will be most likely represented by its A team, while the B team will compete in the other tournaments.

Goranov assured that Bulgaria will participate with its best athletes, especially in the key sports for the country, such as wrestling.

The first European Games will not feature a series of prestigious sports such as athletics, basketball, football, rowing, tennis and handball.

Azerbaijan invested around EUR 1 B for hosting the European Games, in which more than 6000 athletes are expected to complete.

A regular IMF Article IV mission starts a ten-day visit to Bulgaria on Wednesday to discuss key short-term and medium-term macroeconomic forecasts and assumptions, the Finance Ministry has said.

The mission headed by Mrs. Michele Shannon will also discuss the government’s policies for ensuring macroeconomic growth and economic recovery drivers, the ministry said in a statement.

The IMF experts will be having meetings with Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov, Deputy Ministers Karina Karaivanova and Kiril Ananiev as well as representatives of Bulgaria’s central bank BNB.

The staff visit is the first by an IMF mission since the start of the banking crisis with Corporate Commercial Bank, or KTB, in June last year. It also comes shortly after Bulgaria’s parliament approved a BGN 16 B borrowing programme of the government.

The IMF mission completed its previous staff visit on 12 June 2014, just days before the BNB seized control of KTB following a bank run.

The mission concluded back then that “While credit growth remains low, the system is stable and liquid, with banks’ non-performing loans buffered by provisions and significant capital, as well as a positive net foreign asset position.”

 

Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov discussed on Wednesday measures for fighting terrorism and tackling corruption with FBI Director James Comey, who is on an official visit to Bulgaria.

Their meeting was also attended by US Ambassador to Bulgaria Marcie Ries, the prosecution's press service reports.

One of the main points of discussion was the urgent necessity for the adoption of new anti-terrorist legislation in view of the new threats.

Tsatsarov presented the anti-corruption measures, proposed by the prosecution, which are aimed at preventing and tackling these types of practices.

Comey made a commitment to provide opportunities for practical training of Bulgarian prosecutors in the field of fight against terrorism.

The FBI Director stated that the first steps of the investigation are the most important for ensuring successful outcome.

He pointed that US legislation ensured the successful functioning of investigative bodies.

Investigators of the assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov are pursuing several lines of inquiry, including a contract killing, the head of the Russian Security Service Alexander Bortnikov has said.

The outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin was shot dead on Friday on a bridge over Moscow river several hundred meters away from the Kremlin walls, one of the most heavily policed areas in the Russian capital. Nemtsov was buried at Moscow’s Troyekurovo cemetery on Tuesday.

"There are always some”, Bortnikov told reporters on Wednesday when asked whether there were any suspects for the murder, according to ITAR-TASS.

Meanwhile, the investigation team had identified a car initially believed to have been linked to the shooting and allegedly belonging to the Finance Ministry.

The car belongs to a federal security company that provides services to the finance ministry, the state company that prints Russian banknotes and other government agencies, the interior ministry has said in a statement to ITAR-TASS.

"At the moment the car was crossing the bridge, a patrol vehicle and police officers were already there," the ministry has said.

According to the latest survey of Mediana agency, 62 % of Bulgarians oppose the issue of new BGN 16 B debt, while only 10 % approve it.

The latest survey on the social and political attitudes, which was conducted in the period of the parliamentary debate and approval of the debt, was issued on Wednesday.

A similarly high number of Bulgarians (60 %) think that the new debt will harm the country, while only 12 % believe that it will bring improvements.

The change in government has not altered the deep pessimism on the future of the country, with pessimists overwhelmingly outnumbering optimists.

According to 44 % of Bulgarians, the situation in the country will worsen in the next year, while only 12 % expect improvements.

The majority of Bulgarians – 52 % are disappointed by the second government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov after its first three months in office, with only 24 % expressing confidence in it.

This is the first in the last five regular governments to experience such high negativisim and pessimism in the beginning of its term in office.

One third of Bulgarians believe that the incumbent government will worsen the situation in the country, while only 19 % think that it will bring improvements.

The ratio between the political parties is almost the same as it had been prior to the early parliamentary elections in October 2014.

The majority of Bulgarians (55 %) are against the holding of early parliamentary elections, with only 17 % supporting them.

In case early parliamentary elections take place – GERB will attract 22.8 % of the votes, followed by BSP with 16.9 % and DPS with 9.3 %, while one third of Bulgarians would not vote.

One third of Bulgarians think that in the case of a conflict between NATO and Russia, Bulgaria should leave the Alliance, while 9 % consider that the country should back NATO against Moscow.

More than half of Bulgarians (52 %) are opposed to the stationing of NATO military bases in the country, with only 14 % being in favour.

According to 23 % of Bulgarians, US played more important role in provoking the conflict in Ukraine (23 %), while 11 % blame Russia for the eruption of violence.

Nearly a quarter of Bulgarians (24 %) support Russia's stance on Ukraine, while only 6 % back the US position.

According to 42 % of Bulgarians, the country lost from the cancellation of the South Stream pipeline, with meagre 3 % thinking that Bulgaria benefited.

A number of companies are now considering closig their production plants in Russia on account of the devaluation of the Russian ruble and the unfavorable economic conditions.

Among them are PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co. AG as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The two bevarage producers are to follow the example of the Danish brewer Carlsberg and Danone Russia after they made announcements of their intentions in january of this year.

PepsiCo stated Monday that it is planning on closing its Ramenskoe juice facility and transferring some of its capacities to the Lebedyansky plant, located to the southeast of Moscow. The reason was the 10% decrease in revenues reported last month.

“Because our categories are in juice and dairy, stuff that the Russian consumer really needs, the businesses have been quite resilient,’’ PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said.

She added that it was necessary for the Russian facilities to ''tighten the belt'' because of the significant inflation causing increase in some of the import supply prices for the company.

Additionally, around 400 out of the 23,000 employees in Russia will be fired. All of them will receive severance packages or will have the opportunity to transfer to other sites in the country.

NATO ships, assigned to Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2), arrived in the Black Sea on Wednesday to operate and train with ships from the Bulgarian, Romanian and Turkish navies.

The training will comprise simulated anti-air and anti-submarine warfare exercises, simulated small boat attacks and basic ship handling maneuvres, NATO Maritime Command's press service reports.

SNMG2 is led by Rear Adm. Brad Williamson and is composed of flagship USS Vicksburg, HMCS Fredericton, TCG Turgutreis, FGS Spessart, ITS Aliseo, and ROS Regina Maria.

The NATO maritime force has considerable sea-control, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare capacities.

The deployment is in full compliance with international conventions and at the invitation of the Bulgarian, Romanian and Turkish governments.

Williamson said that he was looking forward to enhance interoperability with the navies of the Black Sea Allies.

This scheduled visit, is in support of training and assurance of Black Sea Allies, which would serve as preparation for any mission NATO might be required to undertake.

SNMG2 will return to the Mediterranean Sea later in March, where it will resume patrols contributing to maritime situational awareness in the region.

Veselin Vouchkov, the now ex-Minister of the Interior announced that he will not be retracting his resignation submitted Wednesday.

The statement was made after he met with the leaders of the right-party Reformatorski Blok and center-right ruling GERB party in Parliament today.

''I have stated my arguments in the Council of Ministers, and then I had a short meeting with PM Boiko Borisov and then re-instated them in front of the government representatives. At this point I am not ready to take back my resignation.''

Vuchkov said that the reason for his wish to leave office is the refusal of the cabinet to conduct a new procedure for the selection of Chief Secretary to the Interior Ministry, and new director of the State Agency for National Security (DANS).  

''My motifs were based on the fact that I submitted a proposal for a start of the procedure at the Council of Ministers,'' he added. ''It was in alignment with the newly accepted legal changes of 8 days ago. I am definite about the fact that we need a new selection procedure, despite the fact that there are certain imperfections in the legal framework.''

Vuchkov announced that he had received a statement from the legal office to the Council of Ministers that no procedure can be launched due to missing directions in the document submitted. 

The Bulgarian Parliament dismissed the proposal of opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) for early retirement on Wednesday.

Initially, the amendment to the Social Insurance Code was adopted with 94 votes in favour, 76 votes against, while 15 MPs abstained, daily Dnevnik reports.

However after the main ruling party GERB had requested repetition of the vote, the proposal was dismissed with 93 votes in favour, 82 votes against, while 12 MPs abstained.

Apart from BSP, the proposal was supported by MPs from the remaining opposition parties – Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), Bulgarian Democratic Centre and nationalist Ataka.

There was split within the four parties supporting the coalition government, with the Patriotic Front (PF) voting with the opposition parties, while ABV abstained.

According to the proposed changes, retirement would become possible 24 months earlier than the fulfillment of the eligibility criteria.

The change foresaw pension remuneration to be reduced with 0.4 % for each month that falls short of the required age and work experience, which would cost around BGN 80 M to the pension system annually.

According to the latest National Social Security Institute (NOI) data, 34 000 people are not eligible for retirement at present.

These people are lacking the necessary work experience and have to wait until they reach 65 years of age in order to start receiving pension.

The proposal was also justified with Eurostat data, which showed that more than half a million Bulgarians, aged between 55 and 64 years, were economically inactive during 2013.

Under the proposal, men aged between 61 years, 8 months and 63 years, 8 months and women aged between 58 years, 8 months and 60 years, 8 months, could have been eligible for early retirement in 2014.

According to NOI, BSP's proposal represents a retreat from the commitments to limit early retirement.

Bulgaria and Azerbaijan's leaders are to seek a renewal of the Nabucco gas pipeline project which came to a halt a few years back, Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov has announced.

His comments came at a press conference following a meeting with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, who is on a visit to Sofia on Wednesday.

He told reporters that as early as "today [Wednesday] we will go with President [Ilham] Aliyev to the EU Commission to present the project for Nabucco's renewal," most media outlets quoted him as saying.

Borisov stressed that Bulgaria "was an extremely loyal EU member" and "fulfilled all requirements of the Third Energy Package". This was an apparent reference to the decision of Sofia not to unblock the construction of South Stream which was frozen at the behest of EU. This stance prompted Russia to suspend South Stream, vowing to build a pipeline to Turkey instead.

"Bulgaria cannot be merely a brake, Bulgaria cannot just serve to act the EU Commission's interests, in this case in a project which is entirely both NATO and Europe-oriented [sic!] and years on we have invested money into the Nabucco project", Borisov added.

The PM also stressed the importance of the Southern Gas Corridor for Bulgaria, a project with which Azerbaijan's President gave "an opportunity" to Sofia also allowing its gas operator Bulgargaz to buy its own stake.

Ilham Aliyev said that Azerbaijan is a strategically located country and has proven gas reserves of 2.5 trillion cubic metres.

“Bulgaria is already receiving Azeri gas and we hope in the future it will become a transit country for the other EU member states,” Aliyev said at the press conference.

Aliyev also said the Southern Gas Corridor is one of the biggest projects jointly developed by Azerbaijan and Europe.

“During our meeting we discussed different aspects of our bilateral relations and we once more realized the existence of great opportunities for cooperation between Bulgaria and Azerbaijan”.

Azeri companies are showing great interest in investing in Bulgaria, Aliyev said, adding Bulgarian companies can take part in transport infrastructure projects in Azerbaijan.

After the Super-G races at the Bulgarian ski resort Bansko were cancelled on Friday and Saturday on account of the heavy fog, a number of skiers complained about the harsh conditions and the FIS reaction on Sunday.

Despite the similar situation, ski federation made sure that the competition went ahead anyway, thus posing a danger to a number of skiers, Reuters reported.

''It's a joke, this snow is way too dangerous to ski,'' US Lindsey Vonn said soon after the first start at the Bansko World Cup.

She stated that she had to slow down so as not to fall on account of the heavy fog over the Bulgarian ski resort, thus finishing on the 24th spot.

“The situation happened like in (2013) when I blew my knee out — they had the same situation when they had to delay the race and snow conditions were not good. But they [FIS] still pressed on,” she added.

Vonn, finished third in the Monday Super-G race, right behind world cup overall leaders Tina Maze from Slovakia and Anna Fenninger from Austria.

Germany’s 2010 Olympic champion Viktoria Rebensburg and Austria’s Nicole Hosp also criticized the FIS reaction. They added that competitions should not be allowed if they endanger the skiers.

Some lawmakers in Bulgaria's Parliament have questioned the meaning of Interior Minister Veselin Vuchkov's move to resign.

Vuchkov stepped down during a Wednesday cabinet session and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov accepted his resignation.

But Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who chairs the ruling GERB party's group in Parliament and who served as Interior Minister in Borisov's previous government, hinted the situation might develop further.

In his words, a vote on the resignation might be avoided in Parliament, since Vuchkov's decision "can be a result of emotions".

Meetings of GERB officials with Vuchkov are due later on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Radan Kanev, who co-chairs junior coalition partner Reformist Bloc, also called on Vuchkov to retain his post.

"My personal impression is that there is no final decision, there is the possibility of more conversations," the Bulgarian National Radio quoted Kanev as saying after a meeting attended by all four Deputy Prime Ministers and members of all four parties related to the government.

Hungarian Parliament approved on Tuesday the classification of some data in the contract on the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant for a period of 30 years rather than 15.

Hungary will take EUR 10 B loan from Russia for the upgrade of its only nuclear power plant, which will be constructed by Rosatom, Daily News Hungary reports.

The legislation was approved by 130 MPs, largely coming from the ruling Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, while 62 MPs from the opposition parties voted against.

Fidesz justified the decision with the fact that Paks expansion would serve Hungarian energy security, so any attacks against the project would constitute threat to the country's national security.

The classification concerns data in contracts signed between Russian and Hungarian organisations and subcontractors, the implementation agreements and decisions during the preparation of the deal.

Hungarian Parliament had already extended the period of confidentiality from the standard ten years to 15 in December 2014, Budapest Business Journal reports.

Earlier, PM Orban expressed opposition against the EU's proposal to review intergovernmental agreements on energy projects signed by member states with third countries.

Close to 60% of the Russian people are against military deployment of Russian forces in Donbass even if tensions escalate.

Merely 25% of people would support military action with Russian participation, while 16% found the question difficult to respond to.

The data is based on a sociological survey of public opinion, as reported by the Bulgarian National Radio.

However, as a result of the conflict in the southeastern part of Ukraine, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics are verly likely to eventually become independent states, similarly to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This was the opinion expressed by 38% of Russians surveyed by sociologists.

In comparison to the opinion poll taken in September of 2014, the number of people who find this scenario likely has increased by 8%.

Approximately 20% of people believed that both separatist republics will remain within the jurisdiction of Ukraine, but will achieve relative autonomy. Only 9% on the other hand believed that they could be annexed to Russia.

Bulgaria's Deputy Prime Minister Rumyana Bachvarova has called the decision of Interior Minister Veselin Vuchkov to resign on Wednesday "unexpected".

Commenting after a cabinet meeting where Vuchkov surprisingly stepped down, she declined to name a potential successor to Vuchkov, reminding this could only be in line with the "quota" principle according to which Bulgaria's government was composed last year.

Most minister seats belong to the senior coalition partner, conservative GERB, and the remainder go to the Reformist Bloc, and one has been allocated to left-wing Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV). Bachvarova's comment suggests that GERB will  produce the next Interior Minister as well.

Reactions were not late on the sidelines of Parliament, where opposition MPs interpreted the development as a negative sign.

According to Atanas Merdzhanov, a lawmaker from the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Vuchkov's move is a sign of the "extreme instability of Boyko Borisov's government". In his words, it is evidence of "many unsolved problems" in the governing coalition, though he urged reporters to wait for Vuchkov to personally make his motives clear.

Krasimir Karakachanov, the co-Chair of Patriotic Front (PF), a party supporting the minority coalition whose backing was crucial for the government to be formed, said he believed the development was related to his insistence on "personal changes" within the ministry.

However Deputy PM Meglena Kuneva dismissed this. Speaking from the rostrum, Kuneva, who coordinates activities at the Interior Ministry and several other institutions, stressed Vuchkov's move was "personal".

She also made clear "no jolts" will be allowed in security and internal affairs following the resignation.

 

During a Moscow visit Wednesday, Deputy PM and Social Policies Minister Ivaylo Kalfin discussed opportunities for improvement of trade and economic relations with Russia.

''The economic relations with Russia are extremely important for Bulgaria,'' Kalfin said. ''I believe that in a time of crisis every chance that the business can take, should not be missed. I am convinced that there are ample cooperation opportunities for both sides.''

He further expressed willingness to make every effort on improving the collaboration between Bulgarian and Russian businesses. Kalfin said that both countries have traditions as well as new opportunities for partnerships in a number of areas.

At a meeting with the President of Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Alexander Shokhin, Kalfin discussed possibilities of collaboration. Organizing of business forums, round tables and conferences in the field of ecnomics, as well as exchange of experience and ideas in professional education and qualification improvement were listed as starting points.

EU leaders and US President Barack Obama expressed readiness on Tuesday to extend the sanctions against Russia in case the Minsk ceasefire is further violated.

This happened at a video conference between Obama and the leaders of Germany, France, UK, Italy and European Council President Donald Tusk, EurActiv reports.

The other participants in the video conference were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian PM Matteo Renzi.

Meanwhile Washington approved a one-year extension of the current individual restrictions which include asset freezes and travel bans targeting Russian government officials and people considered to be in Russian President Putin's "inner circle."

Although violence has decreased since the Minsk ceasefire entered into force on February 15, it has not come to a complete halt in some parts of eastern Ukraine.

According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, Obama used the call to condemn Russia and the separatists for not fulfilling their commitments, which had been agreed in Minsk.

The Western leaders agreed to support the full implementation of the Minsk agreements as well as to strengthen the OSCE's ability and capacity to monitor their implementation.

Earlier on Monday, European leaders had agreed that the OSCE needs broader role as observer of the ceasefire and removal of heavy weapons.

During their video conference on Tuesday, the Western leaders also agreed on continuing their support for reforms in Ukraine and the country's economy.

Meanwhile, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey announced at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, that the US should “absolutely” consider providing lethal weapons to Ukraine.

The Obama administration later released a press statement saying that the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13660 with respect to Ukraine will be extended beyond 6 March 2015.

The US President justified his decision with the actions and policies of the Russian government, which continued to threaten Ukraine's peace, security, stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Obama also condemned Russia's annexation of Crimea and its use of force in Ukraine, which continued to pose threat to the national security and foreign policy of the US.

As regards the situation in Libya, the leaders expressed concern for the deteriorating situation and readiness to discuss the issue further.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Veselin Vuchkov, a Deputy PM says.

Vuchkov stepped down at a cabinet meeting earlier on Wednesday, shortly before he was to table his proposals for a new Secretary of the Interior Ministry.

Borisov, who was meeting FBI Director James Comey at the time, told reporters that "when a resignation has been submitted", he accepts it.

The PM was "irritated" by the fact that the resignation had been submitted during Comey's visit, according to daily Dnevnik.

Vuchkov's move constitutes the first resignation of a minister in the current elected government, which took office in November, 2014.

He is yet to comment on his decision.

 

 

Interior Minister Veselin Vuchkov has handed his resignation, the government's press office has confirmed.

PM Boyko Borisov has accepted his decision.

Vuchkov stepped down during a Council of Ministers session, according to 24 Chasa daily.

Ministry officials had first been unavailable for comment.

Vuchkov has been at odds with Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov over the Prime Minister's recent reluctance to replace Interior Ministry secretary Svetlozar Lazarov and national security agency DANS head Vladimir Pisanchev.

Sources of 24 Chasa reportedly described his gesture at the cabinet meeting as "theatrical".

The minister in resignation earlier submitted a report arguing the replacement of both officials was indispensable.

However, the Council of Ministers described the move as "redundant" for the moment.

Vuchkov's resignation coincides with a visit by FBI Director James Comey, who met Borisov on Wednesday morning for a one-hour, closed-door meeting.

Under Bulgaria's constitution, the outgoing minister will now be able to return to Parliament as a lawmaker, a position to which he was elected in the October 2014 early vote.

 

Chief Directorate Border Police is to counteract the expected refugee influx on the Bulgarian-Turkish border with new off-road vehicles.

The information is based on a tender released in the last days of February, according to a BGNES reporter.

Approximately BGN 1.37 M including VAT have been allocated for the expenditure and the main criterion will be the lowest price of offer. The amount is due to be paid through EU funding and the procedure will be expedited, as the vehicles need to be delivered by June of this year.

The Border Police office is to purchase a total of 8 off-road vehicles that also need to be furnished with dog cages. The unit price of each one need not exceed BGN 50 000 including VAT. Additionally, ten more patrol jeeps will be bought at a maximum price of BGN 78 000 including VAT.

Additionally, Migration Directorate to the Ministry of the Interior will buy a larger off-road vehicle with the capacity to transport people attempting to cross the border illegally. An ambulance is to be purchased as well, at a cost of up to BGN 120 000 including VAT.

The funding is provided through two EU programs - The External Borders Fund, and the European Commission's Return Fund.

Earlier in 2014, Bulgarian government announced that there will be an extension to the border fence aiming at preventing refugee influx from Turkey.



FBI head James Comey met on Wednesday Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Sofia while on a visit officially said to deal with security cooperation.

Borisov and Comey also discussed the fight against organized crime and cyber-crime, terrorism, and the US official's forthcoming meetings with his counterpart, DANS head Vladimir Pisanchev, and Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov.

The guest said after the closed-door meeting that he and Borisov "think alike", as quoted by the BGNES news agency.

Comey also pledged to help build "strong ties" between Bulgaria and the US in terms of security and anti-terrorism measures. He added he was sure he "would be back" in Bulgaria many times.

Workers have started an effective strike in one of the biggest factories in the Yambol vicinity and in the country - Yazaki Bulgaria.

No term has been specified as to when the protest will end.

The reasons behind the strike are violations of the labor code that have been established by the Labor Inspectiorate, attempts for the protest actions to be stopped, as well as lack of effective results after a series of negotiations with the employer.

Bulgarian syndicate KT Podkrepa further stated that the demands of the workers in the factory also include a 50% increase in salaries, implementation of ''effectiveness bonus'', based on outstanding results, removal of discriminatory practices, including not paying bonuses if three sick leave days are taken by the employee, implementation of supplementary payments for three-shift work days, as well as providing the necessary conditions for syndical activities.

Recently, InvestBulgaria Agency awarded Yazaki for its contribution to human capital development in the region earlier in February.

''The threats of the employer that they might close down the production sites as well as the mass paid publications in local press can barely compare to the heavy exploitation of workers - physically and emotionally,'' Podkrepa representatives stated. ''The proof of that is the fact that over the past 8 years since its existence, over 8,000 people have resigned from Yazaki.''

Meanwhile, since the beginning of the strike, the employer has implemented a lockout on several machines, thus violating the code of conduct in resolving labor disputes.

At least 30 people have been left dead by a blast in the Zasyadko coal mine in Ukraine's east, in an area controlled by rebels, according to media reports.

More than 40 are thought to be trapped underground, Lentra.ru quotes a Donetsk People's Republic official as saying.

According to Vladimir Tsymbalenko, who oversees technology in the self-proclaimed "People's Republic", has described the toll as "preliminary estimates". In his words, the number of wounded is at least 14.

The website of the "Republic"'s administration has reported only one death, but more details are yet to emerge.

There were 230 workers in the mine at the time of the "explosion", the reasons for which are not yet known as of 10:40 local time.

The Zasyadko mine is among the biggest coal extraction plants in Ukraine. Many workers there still remember the explosions of 2007, when 101 people died in a first blast and a total of 52 in a second explosion a week later, five of them being members of emergency teams.

More details to follow.

A Ukrainian lawmaker has proposed the creation of a "parliamentary police" after a new brawl that ended up violently on Tuesday, Russian media report.

Dmitro Dobrodomov told Ukrainian TV channel 112 "serious fights" required the measure if such incidents are to be prevented in the future.

The fight emerged as Oleg Lyashko, the leader of the Radical Party, hit Sergey Melnichuk, a lawmaker who passed to the ruling majority and was called "carcass" by the former MP. The term is commonly used in Ukraine's Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, for lawmakers who take the step, supposedly "for money" as MPs remaining in opposition usually argue.

You can watch video footage of Tuesday's event here.

According to data published in the CIA World Factbook, Bulgarian population has dropped below 7 million people.

The data was refering to the middle of 2014, and showed that Bulgarian population in fact amounts to 6,724,716 people. According to the CIA website, the information has been gathered based on population census, migration processes, life expectancy and others.

Curiously enough, the information regarding the same period that was released by the National Statistical Institute is quite different. According to NSI, the population of Bulgaria is 7,245,677.

Both statistical surveys, nonetheless show that the population is progressively decreasing. High mortality rate, low birth rate and migration are among the main factors contributing to the negative results.

Bulgaria's death rate is shockingly high with 14.3 deaths per 1,000 people, thus ranking the country at number 6 out of all 255 listed countries.

In terms of life expectancy, Bulgaria takes the 112th spot, coming after most European countries, but still scoring better than Estonia, Armenia and Turkey. Male life expectancy is approximated at 70.74 years, while women's is considerably longer - 78.13 years.

Additionally, the population's median age is 42,6 year old, with 42,4% of the people being in active age - between 25 and 54 year old. Thus, the negative tendency for increase in the number of the elderly population is kept.

The full report on Bulgaria is available here. 

Azerbaijan's President Alham Aliyev is on a visit to Sofia along with ministers of foreign affairs, transport economy, energy and communication.

Aliyev comes at the invitation of his Bulgarian counterpart Rosen Plevneliev. His visit follows the two statesmen's meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, in September of last year when they pledged increased bilateral cooperation in energy.  
Back then Plevneliev attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Southern Gas Corridor, a system of pipes part of which will pass near Bulgaria's territory.

Bulgaria is now eyeing to avail of the prospective pipeline that will pump natural gas from Azerbaijan, and in September signed agreements on gas deliveries though they did not involve concrete parameters.

Sofia at the same time hopes to attain energy diversification through its interconnection grid to reduce dependence from Russian resources.

Unlike a series of visits by foreign leaders in January, Aliyev's was confirmed two weeks in advance.

The full list of Aliyev's delegation includes Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Economic Development Minister Shahin Mustafayev, Industry and Energy Minister Natig Aliyev, and Ali Abbasov, who currently takes the Communications and Information Technologies portfolio.

On the Bulgarian side, various ministers are due to take part in a meeting including Nikolay Nenchev (defense), Vezhdi Rashidov (culture), Bozhidar Lukarski (economy), Temenuzhka Petkova (energy), Krasen Kralev (sports) and Irena Georgieva (Deputy Tourism Minister).

 

Cooperation in security, rule of law and the fight against terrorism are said to be on the agenda of FBI director James Comey and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov as the two are set to meet in Sofia.

Comey, who has been heading the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) since 2013, is also set to meet several other officials, including Bulgaria's Interior Minister Veselin Vuchkov and Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov.

He is also set to meet counterpart Vladimir Pisanchev, who heads the Bulgarian State Agency for National Security (DANS), involved mainly in counter-intelligence and anti-terrorism activities.

Apart from having been Attorney for the Southern District of New York (2002-2003) and US Deputy Attorney General (2003-2005), he has also been General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Lockheed Martin (2005-2010). The latter company has produced the F-16s Sofia has been offered as an option to have its aircraft fleet updated.

In 2013 he joined the London-based Board of Directors of HSBC Holdings, HSBC being among the four banks with which Bulgaria struck a deal to manage its global medium-term bond program worth EUR 8 B.

Comey's visit comes hours ahead of talks between Borisov and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev later on Wednesday.

Prior to visiting Bulgaria, the FBI's director was in Bucharest where he discussed cyber-security and fight against corruption with the country's leaders. The participation of Romania in NATO air policing missions was agreed during his trip there, according to AP and local media outlets.

This is the third visit of an FBI head in fourteen years.

Pakistan is to make its own proposal to Bulgaria concerning the overhaul of its aircraft fleet, media reports suggest.

Currently the US, Italy and Sweden have been bidding to answer Bulgaria's need to have a squadron of 16 fighter jets replacing the existing one which is made up of Russian-made outdated MiGs.

Islamabad's offer is to include JF-17s, multirole 4++ generation fighters which it has been producing jointly with China since 2007, according to daily Presa.

JF-17's engine is Chinese-made, but is constructed under Russian license and resembles that of MiG-29. The Pakistani vehicle is however considered to be more advanced, since MiG-29s are 4-generation aircraft.

Bulgaria has been seeking for a few years to update its aircraft fleet, with various governments in a row failing to take any decision.

Out of 15 offers submitted to Bulgaria's Defense Ministry, a total of 3 have been shortlisted, coming from Italy (offering Eurofighters), Sweden (Gripen) and the US (F-16).

The US option, F-16 fighters from Tucson, Arizona, includes aircraft that have already been removed from service. However, the author notes that even though the vehicles would virtually be a "gift", the need for thorough repairs would generate higher costs for the buyers than if new jets are acquired.

Sweden's proposal to sell Gripen aircraft is the only one involving new vehicles which are to be delivered two years on from sealing a contract. According to Presa's report, within this stretch of time, Sofia could be granted used Gripen fighters for training. Various officials are backing the idea of buying newly-built fighters, including Air Force Commander Maj Gen Rumen Radev and his predecessor Miho Mihov (also ex-Chief of Defense, currently an MP heading Parliament's Defense Committee).








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