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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has arrived in Kiev on her visit to the country since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Merkel met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and assured him of Germany’s support. She called for a bilateral ceasefire, stressing that the territorial integrity and prosperity of Ukraine were a key goal of German politics.

The press office of the Ukrainian President informed that the German Chancellor had pledged a loan of EUR 500M to rebuild energy and water supply infrastructure.

Merkel also vowed an additional EUR 25M for refugee accommodation sites. She made clear that no new sanctions against Russia were envisaged so far.

Before heading for Kiev, Merkel had a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama in which both condemned the entry of a Russian convoy reportedly carrying humanitarian aid into Ukraine without Kiev’s permission.

Shortly after Merkel arrived in Kiev, the first trucks of the convoy left Ukraine to return to Russia.

150 to 200 out of a total of 700 houses in the flood-hit northwestern town of Mizia are inhabitable, according to Mayor Violin Krushovenski.

Mizia was stricken by a flood wave in early August. The floods claimed two lives and caused substantial material damage. The cause of the flooding is still being investigated as local authorities are inspecting the nearby dams.

Krushovenski, as cited by the Focus news agency, announced Saturday that the inspection of the damage caused to residential buildings continued and the conclusive number of houses which had to be fortified or demolished would be clear by Wednesday.

Nikolay Nekovski, Deputy Mayor of Mizia, said that the recovery activities were progressing slowly due to the lack of equipments and volunteers.

He said that the most pressing need was for trucks, dumpers and excavators.

Nekovski also noted that the current number of volunteers amounted to around 50 and urged people to join the recovery activities, stressing that any allegations of an epidemic spreading in the area were false.

Nearly 60% of the babies born in Bulgaria in 2013, or a total of 39 375, were born out of wedlock, according to the National Statistical Institute (NSI).

In 70% of the cases, information about the father was available, according to NSI data, as cited by Darik radio.

In 2013, the number of marriages stood at around 20 000, compared to a number of 82 826 marriages in 1945.

The share of couples living together without marriage doubled in the period 2001-2011, reaching a level of 8% of the population.

70% of the so-called domestic partnerships are people aged 16-39, 16% are people aged 40-49, and 14% are people aged 50+.

Although the birth of the first child is believed to be a major reason for domestic partnerships to result in a marriage, 61.8% of the respondents of a survey say that the decision to marry is not dependent on having a baby.

The average marriage age has increased from 28 to 30 for men over the past 2-3 years.

The average marriage age for women increased from 27 years to 27 years and 3 months in the period 2012-2013.

The Varba-Batantsi mine near the southern Bulgarian town of Madan will be officially reopened Saturday after a 15-year break.

Sergey Atanasov, CEO of Gorubso-Madan, said that the mine had restarted its production activity in July, registering an output of around 2500 tonnes, adding that the August report would be 1000 above that rate.

Atanasov informed that the preparations for the restart of the mine after a 15-year break lasted around a year and a half.

“Under the concession contract, we were supposed to launch it by end-2013, but we managed to do that some 5-6 months earlier,” he stated, as cited by the Bulgarian National Radio.

Atanasov outlined the next steps in the restart program, stressing that the aim was to reach a capacity of 7-8000 tonnes per month and a staff of 180-190 by end-2013.

In 1999, the mine was closed due to its failure to reach targets and an accumulation of losses.

The Varba-Batantsi mine currently has a staff of around 130 and it expects to hire 30 new employees within a month.

In end-March 2012, Varba Batantsi, an association of KCM 2000 and Minstroy Holding, acquired over 90% of the shares of lead and zinc mine Gorubso-Madan, thereby putting an end to miners' protests over unpaid wages totaling BGN 1.2 M. A 35-year lead and zinc mining concession was signed in end-May 2012.

Police have detected cannabis weighing over 3600kg in two operations in fields near the village of Dragush, Petrich District, and the village of Laki, Gotse Delchev District.

During two parallel operations conducted on Friday near the southwestern villages of Dragush and Laki, police founf a total of 1030 stalks of cannabis weighing slightly over 3600kg, according to the press office of the Interior Ministry.

After inspecting nine properties on the territory of the village of Dragush, police officers detected 915 stalks of cannabis weighing a total of 3505kg.

Meanwhile, police officers from Gotse Delchev found 115 stalks of cannabis weighing a total of 98kg in a property located on the territory of the village of Laki.

Pre-trial proceedings have been opened into the cases and they have been reported to the regional prosecutor’s offices in Petrich and Gotse Delchev.

On August 19, police in Sandanski and Blagoevgrad destroyed 1.5 tonnes of cannabis found on the territory of the villages of Ploski and Gorno Harsovo.

Bulgaria launches Saturday celebrations for the 137th anniversary of the heroic Shipka Pass Battle during the 1877-1878 Liberation War.

The festivities are to be attended by Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, caretaker Culture Minister Martin Ivanov and caretaker Labor Minister Yordan Hristoskov, as well as diplomats, mayors, and representative of the central and local administration.

The celebrations will begin with a memorial liturgy at the Sokolovo monastery. Groups of people will begin a march to the Shipka peak from three sites.

A newly built Eternal Flame monument will be officially inaugurated at the crypt of the Monument of Freedom. There will be a solemn roll call of the National Guard and a reenactment of the epic battle, organized by the national association "Tradition." The military roll call and fireworks have been scheduled for 8.45 pm. The historic battle of the Russian-Turkish War took place between August 21 and August 26, 1877.

The Shipka pass turned out to be of strategic importance for the outcome of the twelfth war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire but it was initially guarded mostly by the regiments of the Bulgarian "opalchentsi" or volunteers, as well as smaller numbers of Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Finnish soldiers from the Russian Empire's army.

This force of a total of about 7 000 armed forces faced almost 40 000 Ottoman Turkish troops, but managed to hold its critically important positions until the arrival of the Russian army of General Radetski.

The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 ended with the San Stefano Peace Treaty of March 3, 1878, which liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman Turkey.

A Sofia court has ruled that the royal residence Tsarska Bistritsa must be returned to the state by Bulgaria’s former Tsar and PM Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his sister Maria-Louisa.

According to the ruling of the Sofia District Court, as cited by 24 Hours Daily, Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his sister Maria-Louisa are to pay compensations of BGN 140 752 each, as well as interest amounting to BGN 80 000, for using the property without any legal justification for a period of 5 years, from March 2006 to March 2011.

According to the ruling, the two were bona fide occupants of the royal residence. They spent BGN 168 000 on repairs at the "St Ivan Rilski" chapel, but they received revenues from entrance fees for the royal residence and from wood harvesting in the area.

Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his sister Maria-Louisa are to cover the court expenses amounting to BGN 400 000, if the decision enters into force. The ruling can be appealed before the Sofia Appellate Court.

In December 2013, Bulgaria's Supreme Court of Cassation (VKS) upheld the rulings of of the Plovdiv Appellate Court and the Plovdiv District Court saying that the Krichim royal residence was state property.

VKS was approached by Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his sister Maria-Louisa, who sought the cancellation of the rulings of the courts of first and second indtance.

The Security Council at the caretaker Prime Minister’s office will hold an emergency sitting on August 27 on Bulgaria’s stance at the upcoming NATO summit in early September.

According to reports of 24 Hours daily, the emergency meeting was proposed by caretaker Defense Minister Velizar Shalamanov, who noted that Bulgaria still lacked a strategy for its development as a NATO member state by 2020.

The strategy is to be discussed and adopted by the Council on Wednesday, with the participation of Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev or his representative, after which the caretaker government will have to approve it quickly so as to make it available by the summit in Newport, Wales on September 4-5.

The NATO summit is to be attended by President Rosen Plevneliev, caretaker Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov, and caretaker Defense Minister Velizar Shalamanov.

The European Commission on Friday said it is ready to support exporters of dairy products hit by Russia’s ban on food imports from the West.

According to a statement by the Commission,  it [...] “will not hesitate to take any further emergency market support measures if necessary, notably for certain dairy products where the impact of the Russian ban seems obvious."

The move adds up to emergency measures already taken for fruit and vegetables, Reuters noted in its coverage of the news.

The Commission said last week it would provide up to EUR 125 M in aid to EU farmers unable to sell their produce, especially fruit and vegetables, because of the Russian ban.

Russia imported more than EUR 1.3 B worth of dairy products from the EU last year.

Earlier this month Moscow banned imports of food from the US, the EU, Australia, Canada and Norway in  response to the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

The first vehicles of a Russian aid convoy have reached the war-torn Ukrainian city of Luhansk this afternoon, ignoring charges of ‘direct invasion’ by the government in Kiev.

The convoy of some 260 trucks has been reported to be carrying food, water, medicines, sleeping bags, portable electricity generators and other relief items for the people of Luhansk, which has been besieged by Ukrainian government forces fighting pro-Russian rebels since April.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow has decided to begin moving the convoy towards Luhansk despite lack of authorization from the Ukrainian government as  “all of the pretexts for delaying the delivery of aid to the people in the region of the humanitarian catastrophe have been exhausted.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Friday confirmed that the convoy had crossed into Ukraine but said its representatives were not escorting it because the ICRC has not received “sufficient security guarantees from the fighting parties”. The organization said its team in Luhansk reported heavy shelling overnight.

AP quoted the head of Ukraine security service SBU Valentyn Nalyvaichenko as accusing Moscow of ‘direct invasion under the cover of the Red Cross’.

According to Nalyvaichenko, the trucks in the convoy were half-empty, suggesting the vehicles would be used to supply weapons to the rebels.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the entry of the trucks without Kiev's authorization as a "flagrant violation of international law."

NATO condemned the moving of a "so-called humanitarian convoy” across the border, saying Moscow’s unilateral decision was a breach of Russia’s international obligations.

"These developments are even more worrying as they coincide with a major escalation in Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine since mid-August, including the use of Russian forces," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, as quoted by Reuters.

The European Union blasted Russia for what it described as violation of the integrity of Ukraine’s border. The European Commission urged Moscow to reverse its decision to move the convoy without Kiev’s permission because relief supplies could only be shipped and delivered under international supervision.

Kremlin denied breaching international law, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had told German Chancellor Angela Merkel by telephone that Moscow could no longer wait for Kiev's permission to help people in distress.

Luhansk has been subject to heavy artillery fire that has left food supplies scarce and cut off water, electricity and phone lines.

Bulgaria’s caretaker transport and communications minister Nikolina Angelkova has replaced the CEO of the state-run postal service and the board chairman of railway company BDZ.

Stanislav Dochev, who has been with Bulgarian Posts since 2010, was appointed as the company's CEO, the ministry said in a statement.

He was the company’s deputy CEO and in the period 2012-2014 he has headed its courier services department EMS/BULPOST.

Dochev will replace current CEO Valentin Petkov.

Nikolay Naidenov, deputy board chairman of BDZ Holding in the period 2013-2014, is replacing current board chairman Anelia Krushkova.

Iraq is working on a project for protecting its oil pipelines against terrorist attacks that uses Bulgarian know-how, Iraq’s Ambassador in Sofia has said.

In an interview with Bulgarian daily 24 Chasa carried on Friday Ambassador Asaad Ali Yaseen Khalaf Al Samarraie said that Bulgaria has a licensed invention for protecting oil pipes that Iraqi authorities can use.

While on a visit to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences the Iraqi Ambassador has seen himself how the Bulgarian invention could provide good protection to oil pipelines in his country.

Attacks on oil infrastructure by anti-government militants often disrupt extraction, transportation and refining of crude oil in Iraq which costs the country millions of dollars in lost revenue.

The Iraqi Ambassador went on to say that he had liked the idea behind the invention very much and had proposed to his government to make use of it.

“The authorities accepted the idea with interest,” he said without elaborating.

Bulgaria is grappling with an influx of refugees, mostly fleeing the war in Syria, that has caught authorities by surprise, Al Jazeera has said in a feature story.

Having stretched to the limit the capacity of refugee camps in the EU’s poorest member state, few of the refugees “are able to find steady jobs and secure housing” in Bulgaria where they are faced with language barriers and sluggish economy, Al Jazeera said.

You can read the whole feature story here: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/bulgaria-grapples-with-mideast-refugee-surge-2014819124227217604.html

Bulgaria’s Customs Agency said on Friday it has seized heroin worth BGN 3M at Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint, at the border with Turkey.

A total of 60 packs of heroin were hidden in a Bulgarian-registered van that traveled to Bulgaria from Turkey. The total amount of the seized drug is 31.380 kg, Nova Tv reports.

The car driver, who is a Bulgarian citizen, was taken into custody.

Two other foreign citizens have been detained for complicity.

The United Agrarians party will back center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria in October's early elections, the press office of GERB announced, Friday.

The leaders of the two parties Petya Stavreva and Boyko Borisov signed a political partnership agreement on Friday, according to which the United Agrarians support GERB's candidate-MPs in the upcoming elections.

"GERB and the United Agrarians state their willingness to participate in a future democratic government with center-right parties. The two parties will continue their political partnership in the upcoming local elections, too" the agreement reads.

European Commission became aware that room was made at Bulgaria's Varna harbor for pipes to be used for the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline, EurActiv notes.

Despite the assurances by the country’s government that the project has been frozen, a video published by Dnevnik, the EurActiv partner in Bulgaria, shows workers at the Varna harbor making room for further arrivals amid pipes delivered for the South Stream pipeline.

According to information released by Dnevnik, the first batch of pipes have arrived by sea on 14 August. They had been brought from Germany, as they were produced by the company Europipe, an article of EurActiv reads.

Bulgaria's caretaker government, which took office on 6 August, has frozen the construction of South Stream, after clear indications that the EU executive would impose infringements on Bulgaria, unless the country re-negotiates its bilateral agreement with Russia for the construction of the pipeline, which is in breach of EU law.

Commission spokesperson Chantal Hughes has confirmed for EurActiv that the EU executive was aware of the press reports and of the video in question. However, she added that the Commission assumed that construction was suspended, and that it was not going to comment on whether delivering pipes consisted of a violation.

Regarding the Bulgarian section of South Stream there was an infringement procedure ongoing which concerns the compatibility with EU public procurement rules of the pipeline in this country, Hughes stated.

Hughes said the infringement procedure was “progressing” and that the EC was analyzing the reply of the Bulgarian authorities to the formal notice that it sent, EurActiv notes.

“When we finish that analysis, we will decide on the next steps... in the letter of formal notice, we requested the Bulgarian authorities to suspend the construction of the project until the alleged violations are remedied and we can be certain that there is full compliance with European law. The Bulgarian authorities have confirmed more than once that they agreed to suspend work,” she said for EurActiv.

Tourist trips of Bulgarians abroad have increased by 34.7% in the second quarter of 2014, as compared to the same period of 2013, according to the National Statistical Institute.

Meanwhile, a decrease was observed in the number of Bulgarian residents who traveled in the country – by 13.6%.

In Q2 of 2014, 886.1 thousand Bulgarians went on a tourist trip. The majority (74.7%) of them traveled only within the country, 19.8% - only abroad and 5.5% - both in the country and abroad.

In the second quarter of 2014, most of the tourist trips (45.4%) were made by residents aged 25-44 years.

The share of tourist trips organized through a travel agency or a tour operator abroad was 39.6% and in the country – 5.8%.

The highest relative share of expenditure was on food for domestic trips – 36.0% and for trips abroad - on transport (41.8%).

In the second quarter of 2014 a person aged 15 and above spent on average BGN 216.67 in the country and BGN 386.81 – abroad.

Meanwhile, the average expenditure per person on a business trip was BGN 253.22 for trips in the country and BGN 1069.45 for business trips abroad.

A convoy of lorries from Russia are entering Ukrainian territory, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow has announced.

The vehicles have not been granted Kiev's permission to cross the border.

In its statement [RU], the ministry says that the convoy is heading to Luhansk and warns Ukraine against any actions it could take to stop the trucks.

Russia's diplomatic service added that Ukraine has "no justification" to delay aid deliveries for those affected by the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

It also explains Russia's patience has worn thin as the lorries have remained blocked at the Ukrainian border since August 14, pending approval from Kiev.

German weekly Der Spiegel cites reports suggesting pro-Russian rebels are escorting the vehicles.

Representatives of the self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic" have confirmed that rebels are accompanying the trucks to ensure the safety of both the relief and those escorting it.

"Donetsk People's Republic" officials, for their part, were quoted by Russian news agency RIA as saying insurgents were allowing the convoy to pass through checkpoints across the major roads leading deeper into Ukraine's territory.

Authorities in Kiev believe that the convoy is part the actions Russia has embarked on in the east of Ukraine over the past weeks.

Moscow says the 280 trucks (according to ITAR-TASS estimates) are only serving humanitarian purposes.

Apart from food, the vehicles allegedly contain medicine, sleeping bags and portable power stations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has officially announced it is nor part of the convoy [RU], even though the Russian Foreign Ministry has said it is taking part.

The ICRC has however warned of severe humanitarian conditions in Luhansk, one of the biggest Donbass cities, which is facing shortage of food, water and electricity.

Funding under Operational Program Environment will be unfrozen no earlier than October, Bulgaria's caretaker Minister of Environment and Waters Svetlana Zhekova said, Friday.

Currently, efforts are focused on minimizing the risk of losing EU funds, novinite.bg informs.

"In August, the European Commission sent a letter for the automatic reduction of about EUR 50M, therefore, our efforts will be directed towards minimizing other eventual losses. Our main goal remains to send a total of BGN 747 175 824.56 to the National Fund Directorate for certification in order to minimize the loss of funds under OP Environment in 2014," minister Zhekova said.

The water sector will continue to be a priority. The primary focus will again be on water supply and sewerage systems infrastructure, however efforts will be put in protecting water resources quality.

The next programming period will focus on two new issues - air pollution and climate, novinite.bg reports.

It will be difficult for Bulgarian producers to sell their fruits and vegetables this year, interim Agriculture Minister Vasil Grudev argued.

Vasil Grudev also announced his ministry had halted public procurement procedures launched by predecessors, as the Health Ministry did on Thursday, though he refused to enter into details.

He commented on the aftermath of Russia ban on food imports from the EU in an interview with NOVA TV.

Grudev made clear the state would make up for the losses and would also seek EU compensations for indirect losses.

"We will demand as much as it is necessary. We will insist on a compensation tied to the losses from the price drop," he said.

Reports in various outlets showed on Friday that the wholesale markets in Sofia recently imported tomatoes mostly originating from Poland, explaining their decision with "bad crops in Bulgaria" this year following a very rainy spring and summer.

A variety of outdoor musical and children's events will take place in Bulgaria's capital city of Sofia in the last days of August.

The cultural calendar of Sofia includes diverse live concerts and theatrical performances for children and for grown ups in the Borisova Gradina Park, the City Garden, the South Park, and the Zaimov Park, BGNES reports.

On August 22 at the Summer Stage in Borisova Gradina there will be a concert of Alexandroff Ragtime Band, and on 23 August the same stage will host a musical poetic performance based on the works of Bulgarian poet Peyo Yavorov and Norwegian author Olav Hauge.

Sofia's Zaimov Park will see a number of concerts, including jazz performances by Jazz Formation Sofia and the Big Band of Stara Zagora.

A three-day classical music festival will be held in Borisova Gradina Park Summer Stage starting on August 29.

Children and their parents can attend various musical performances and games in the city's South Park and in Zaimov Park.

Caretaker Defense Minister Velizar Shalamanov asserted Friday his institution would not allow any shocks in the intelligence services.

Speaking in the Bulgarian National Radio's morning broadcast, Shalamanov commented on reports that Veselin Ivanov, Director of the Defense Information Service, would be dismissed by the interim minister.

"It is far more important to me that the service should work in an effective way alongside partner services due to the complex security environment around Ukraine, the Black Sea region, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan. Services should therefore be well-functioning, including in finding external factors that have likely influenced the crisis with [Corporate Commercial Bank, also known as] KTB. With all this in sight, there will be no jolts within the services."

Stressing Ivanov was currently on a leave, the Defense Minister stopped short of explicitly pointing out whether or not he would take the step

Shalamanov added that the Bulgaria-NATO 2020 strategy was to be prepared in the short term.

He added it should be focused on capabilities and a clear financial framework to reach them.

The minister stressed the importance of the way funding is managed, "the way support from NATO [and] the EU and the allies' solidarity should be increased so that we attain these capabilities."

It is also significant "how the modernization will be carried out through an effective portfolio of multi-year programs".

Shalamanov also admitted there was a problem with Bulgaria's NATO membership dues worth BGN 15 M.

He explained the issue arose following a BGN 100 M cut of the Defense Ministry's budget, "even though it is well below the 2% [of GDP] required for an effective alliance membership."

In his words, the dues are to be paid by installments until the end of the year.

World famous runners will participate in this year's biggest ultramarathon in Bulgaria - Persenk Ultra 2014.

The event starts Friday at midnight in the city center of Bulgaria's Asenovgrad, Nikolay Marangozov, one of the organizers of the marathon, told Darik news.

Among the participants are the Guinness world record winner Lyubomir Palakarchev, who holds the record for 600 km mountain running on the route Kom – Emine, as well as his opponent and world champion Rusko Kadiev.

A total of 130 runners have signed up to participate in this year's Persenk Ultra 2014. Some 110 of them are Bulgarians, but there are also participants from Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia, UK, USA and Ukraine.

The 130-kilometer route has a total of 9 refreshment points, where runners can get drinks, food, and medical care if necessary.

The sports event includes another route - the 80-kilometer Orehovo Ultra, Darik reports.

The final of Persenk Ultra is at 12:00 on August 24, Sunday.

State-owned Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) has to collect a total of BGN 1.45 B of trade receivables and loans it has given out to filian companies, its interim 2014 report says.

The bulk of this money, or BGN 1.2 B (82% of the total), was spent on assistance to the National Electric Company (NEK), with all the loans granted to NEK now consolidated into a single one to be paid in ten years and bearing a 4.49% yearly interest, the document shows according to Trud's website.

BEH has stepped into the second half of 2014 at a profit of BGN 48.1 M, 86% less than at the same time in 2013.

The reports points out that failure to gather dividends from subsidiaries this year is the main reason for the low performance.

Of all filial companies NEK itself is facing the hardest time, with a loss of BGN 250 M in end-June 2014, compared to a profit of BGN 17 M for the same period of last year.

Bulgargaz, the national gas supplier, has registered an improvement, with a positive BGN 42.3 M (up from BGN 2.6 M in end-June 2013).

However, this is mainly due to debts of Sofia's heating utility Toplofikatsiya Sofia to NEK that Bulgargaz bought out earlier this this year.

A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 5.1 on the Richter scale was registered in the southern part of the Greek Kassandra peninsula, Chalkidiki at 8.29 am EEST.

The epicenter of the quake was located 13 km away from Polychrono, a tourist town located in the eastern part of the peninsula of Kassandra, Focus news reports.

According to Greek media outlets, some 5 minutes before the 5.1 jolt, another earthquake of 4.9 on the Richter scale hit the peninsula.

So far, no damages or victims were reported.

The temblor was felt in Thessaloniki - the second largest city in Greece, as well.

Former Reformist Bloc Spokesman Radan Kanev has said he considers himself fully capable of leading the right-wing coalition which is to elect its leader in September.

In an interview with private national channel bTV, he said his party, Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), known to be the biggest within the alliance, is due to decide on Tuesday whether or not to support his candidacy.

The ex-spokesperson stepped down on August 4, citing dissension within the bloc about its policies in regard to striking unions with other parties.

Kanev hailed the achievements of the Reformist Bloc in the light of Bulgaria's most recent history, underlining no other coalition had managed to run in two consecutive elections without breaking apart.

The Reformist Bloc was forged and consolidated in 2013 out of right-wing parties seeking to convey the image of a "right alternative".

Speaking of possible coalitions with other parties to form a government after the snap poll on October 5, he explained he could rule out any alliances with the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), "cops" or "communists".

He declared himself against a possible attempt of Boyko Borisov, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB)'s leader, to become Prime Minister if his center-right party comes first at the polls.

The US is mulling a response to Islamic State after a video showed the beheading of James Foley, amid reports the group could be holding more people.

Britain's Daily Telegraph has revealed that, apart from journalist Steven Sotloff, who was also in the footage published by IS, a number of aid workers are also being held hostage, with two Italians, 21-year-old Vanessa Marzullo and 20-year-old Greta Ramelli reportedly among them.

Italy's Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on whether they are in the hands of IS.

A total of three aid workers employed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were abducted by Islamist fighters last autumn.

It was revealed late on Wednesday that the US had recently an unsuccessful operation aimed at releasing James Foley and other hostages.

Washington has launched a formal investigation into Foley's death, while London is seeking to establish the identity of the insurgent standing behind Foley in the video.
Reports cited by the BBC suggest he is from London or the south-east of England.

As for other people held in captivity, US officials have ruled out paying ransoms as an option to save hostages' lives, after reports emerged that a EUR 100 M ransom had been demanded for Foley.

US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf has made clear that Washington "does not make any concessions to terrorists".

The US is meanwhile pursuing its airstrike campaign across Iraq which has been ongoing for two weeks now.

As of August 21, a total of 90 strikes have been carried out, with 57 of them having a single target - Mosul dam.

Martin Dempsey, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has nevertheless warned that it will be impossible to defeat IS if the raids do not include their base in Syria.

"Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border," Dempsey was quoted as saying.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has not ruled out such an option, has called IS "an imminent threat to every interest" his country has, "whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else".

Al Jazeera quotes him as saying that the group is "as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen".

"They are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of ... military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we've seen."

Sofia Court of Appeals has dismissed Gergo Gergov, mayor of the Bulgarian town of Vidin.

The move was demanded by the Prosecutor's Office to avoid a risk of "putting pressure" on witnesses, according to the Bulgarian National Radio.

Prosecutors indicted Gergov after he was arrested in an investigation carried out by the State Agency for National Security (DANS).

Gergov is to be charged with breach of duties he allegedly committed while signing a contract with a firm assigned to make food supplies to budgetary institutions.

The income statement of the state budget was overestimated by about BGN 2 B back at the planning phase, Bulgaria's caretaker Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki said.

Bliznashki, who assumed office on August 6, warned that the budget approved by Plamen Oresharskí's government carried a risk of "a clear problem with the [National] Revenue Agency".

While he was in Varna to meet Mayor Ivan Portnih, he also announced that expenditures of the state administration should be slashed by 15% up to end-2014.

However, the caretaker government will "refrain" from doing so to avoid accusations of political "purges", the website Dariknews.bg quoted Bliznashki as saying.

A caretaker government is not entitled to update the state budget, since there is no acting Parliament to approve such a step.

The Prime Minister also defended the reappointment of Vanyo Tanov, a former head of the Customs Agency, to the same office, a move that divided the opinions in Bulgaria.

In his words, the Customs Agency was undergoing "grabs" and it therefore needed a professional like Tanov who could help to plug up smuggling channels.

Public procurement procedures worth BGN 30 M were launched in the healthcare sector during the last days of Plamen Oresharski's cabinet, the interim Health Minister revealed.

Miroslav Nenkov said on Thursday they were to be frozen as they contained a number of flaws, including in the tenders envisaged.

In his words, the ministry would not abandon the procedures started by Nenkov's predecessor Tanya Andreeva, but would consider how to fix their issues, the website Dnevnik.bg reports.

The biggest single procurement involved the so-called "electronic healthcare", at BGN 12 M, but the requirements set out by the ministry were not clear and precise enough, Nenkov explained.

He cited as a particular problem that the ministry placed an order for an electronic system that could be used by only 1000 computers, and it was unknown who would use it since GPs alone number 5000, and all pharmacies and hospitals should also be connected.

An interview of Novinite.com with Mariyana Kukusheva, head of the Federation of Bakers and Confectioners in Bulgaria, about the impact that Russia's decision to restrict food imports from the EU is having on Bulgaria.

Ms Kukusheva, if we look at the aftermath of Russia’s ban of European food products and its repercussions on Bulgaria, have you already noticed any reactions among the producers from your sector and also among food producers as a whole?

Currently there is nothing freshening: the proposal from the European Commission is just an idea that the agricultural production, namely fruits and vegetables, should be bought up and distributed among schools, social homes, etc. This is the usual example of a wonderful charity action which is possible, which has been checked in any case and is practicable in Europe, but in Bulgaria there is only silence on the issue for several reasons. The uncertainty arises from the fact that Bulgarian suppliers are generally not united into significant trade organizations – neither in clusters nor in cooperations, and this causes a major inconvenience. Of course, the model of communications established in Europe is impossible in Bulgaria. We do not have a law on trade organizations, we do not have any experience in alliances, we do not have partnership and trust among each other. There is also another obstacle. You know that Europe introduced a long time ago VAT exemptions for donated goods. In Bulgaria ever this measure has not been adopted so far. All this is part of the administrative hindrances that such an initiative could beet. Up to now, Bulgarian suppliers are still seeking alternative routes, of course via neighboring and non-EU states.

Are producers currently receiving any aid from the government or has there been at least an adequate response hinting at later support?

Presently there are no indicators for a possible financial aid, since an internal compensation on behalf of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian budget is impossible for well-known reasons. [The interim government is not authorized to make budget amendments.] Nor do we have any mechanism for compensations envisaged – neither in the state budget, nor in the Rural Development Program or in the Common Agricultural Policy. Besides the exact unit to measure the compensations for European suppliers, among whom we are, is so far unclear.

In other words, is the share of EU compensations Bulgaria will get yet unknown?

You are absolutely right. First, the share of Bulgaria has not yet been calculated. It is still just a concept and is based on statistical data from 2013. Secondly, no administrative cluster is currently in charge of processing and presenting unexecuted contracts upon request. Thirdly, at the moment we are still in an “off-switch” state and don’t know what to do. Of course, this is where I should say that I am not having in mind any specific business entities. Commenting on the embargo we are speaking of an issue related to long-term trade and political relations between partners which need a strategy to develop and to overcome obstacles. This is what states with a real market economy do. The issue of the indirect repercussions of the stalled exports to Russia from European suppliers different from the Bulgarian ones, meaning the entry of European goods into Bulgaria at dumping prices, is already a reality, and it mainly unfolds through the big retail chains. I should also say that dumping prices are not non-market prices, but do not correspond to the cost price of products made in Bulgaria.

If a scenario unfolds in which Russia’s counter-sanctions last more than a year and producers are forced to respond, which alternative routes do you consider feasible?

Naturally, there are no strictly determined channels, since businesses are free to choose and implement what they consider to be the best decisions. My opinion, however, is that the Bulgarian production stand the best chances in countries neighboring ours which are also not EU members. I am talking about Serbia, Macedonia and Greece.

Do you expect that food prices could soar if restrictions remain for a longer time?

Right now I don’t. There would be no reason, since supply would increase and consumers will buy agricultural products at lower prices. The indirect consequence will be nevertheless felt just in a month, and it will have various directions. Firstly, jobs will be cut. Secondly, transfers to the state budget will go down. Thirdly, company indebtedness will grow.

What about the ban’s effect on the investment climate?

The investment climate in the sectors of production and processing of agricultural production is marked by a low confidence index. For a long time there have been no predictability, vision and strategy to develop the processing industry in Bulgaria. With these factors in sight, nothing more specific should be expected now.

You mentioned retail chains. A few months ago you said that the government of Plamen Oresharski was the only one that started to carry out an adequate and coherent policy aimed at establishing balanced relations between small producers and retail chains. Do you expect any changes within the interim government or they won’t be under way before the autumn, when there is an elected government?

During the government of Plamen Oresharski, as you know, some changes were introduced into the Consumer Protection Act. The President nevertheless imposed a veto on the adopted bill with certain motives. At a second reading at the Economic Committee the motives were reviewed, and a partners’ agreement was reached with the team sent by the retail chains. The reality is that there was no quorum at the National Assembly, and this draft bill is now pending a vote in the next Parliament. The issue of how to protect Bulgaria's production and small and medium enterprises is crucial for the economic development. It is not a political one, this is the issue of the century, because one cannot be an equal member of any union, the EU included, without having a developing, modern, and competitive economy. The economy, for its part, cannot be developed if domestic consumption and the living standards of consumers do not rise. Consumers themselves are exclusively dependent on the domestic production of any industry and any sector in a given state. We therefore expect that the subject “In Defense of the Bulgarian [products]” will be on the agenda for the next Parliament.

Balkan telecommunications regulators are nearing a decision to cancel roaming charges for mobile communications, Macedonian news agency MIA reported on Thursday.

The proposal, launched about two months ago, has brought together regulators from Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey.

Regulators believe they can take the decision for setting up a Balkan cost-free roaming zone by January 1, 2015. Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina will also be part of the zone.

“While we are waiting for the European Commission to adjust our roaming prices to the European ones,  as  Balkan regulators we have decided to agree – bilaterally and multilaterally – to cancel roaming charges for our customers to enable them to use mobile services while traveling in the Balkans,” MIA quoted the Director of Macedonia’s Agency for Electronic Communications, Robert Ordanoski, as saying.

Under the planned decision, roaming charges will be scrapped for all types of mobile services – voice, messaging and Internet.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will take over as chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and thus become the next prime minister.

Davutoglu will succeed outgoing president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he assumes office next week.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey's political scene for 11 years as prime minister, announced Davutoglu's nomination on Thursday after a meeting of AKP’s executive committee convened to decide on his successor.

Davutoglu is known to be sharing many of Erdogan’s foreign and domestic policy aims. Tipped as a key Erdogan loyalist, he was appointed Foreign Minister in Erdogan's cabinet in May 2009.

Davutoglu, 55, had also served as foreign policy adviser to outgoing president Abdullah Gul.

Davutoglu's nomination is expected to be endorsed by AKP’s extraordinary congress on August 27 and he will assume office the following day.

According to AFP's coverage of the news, ""criticized as neo-Ottoman or even pan-Islamic by some academics, the core of Davutoglu's policy has been to make Turkey a world power projecting its influence across the region."

"But while Turkey's importance has unquestionably grown in the last years, critics say the policy has left Ankara isolated and surrounded by crisis-torn countries whose problems are spilling over the border," AFP added.

Bulgaria has received a record low dividend from its state-owned companies this year, it was revealed on Thursday.

Reasons include worsened financial performance of state-owned firms and a cut in the dividend rate to 70% from 80%, capital.bg said on Thursday, citing Finance Ministry figures.

The cut was introduced by the previous Socialist-Liberal government at the end of last year in a bid to boost investment by state-owned companies.

A total of BGN 54.3 M have been paid as dividend by state-owned companies this year, less than half of the BGN 113.5 M planned in the 2014 government budget and an eight-year low.

According to capital.bg, another reason for the drop in dividend payments was the concession made by the previous government which in June allowed the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) to pay dividend calculated as percentage of group profit rather than individual profit. Thus, BEH has paid dividend from its consolidated profit of BGN 29.3 M rather than its individual profit of BGN 396.9 M.

While the change is not illegal it is something unusual in terms of dividend payments, capital.bg commented. According to legal advisors, the change might have been prompted by considerations aimed at preventing de-capitalisation of state-run companies.

The State Consolidation Company has paid BGN 4.6 M in dividend this year, compared with BGN 148.4 M last year. The Bulgarian Development Bank, however, has increased dividend payment to BGN 7.1 M this year from BGN 5.3 M last year.

Bulgaria and the US hope the four-way talks on resolving the Ukraine crisis will generate positive results, it was announced on Thurday.

In a statement released after a meeting between caretaker Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov and US Ambassador to Bulgaria Marcie Ries the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the two sides have highlighted Russia’s responsibility for easing tensions in Ukraine.

On Sunday, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Germany and France reached an agreement in Berlin on the delivery of Russian humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine. No positive results, however, were reached on a ceasefire and on the political process.

Daniel Mitov also said that Bulgaria actively supports the constructive talks between the EU and the US on signing the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). According to Mitov, the proposed trade deal is important not only because it would help boost employment and growth but also because of its geostrategic implications.

Bulgaria-US cooperation in law enforcement, defence and security also were on the agenda of the meeting.

The two sides restated their will to continue their talks on training Libyan military personnel once the situation in the North African country had stabilized enough.

Bulgaria and the US are strongly worried by the situation in Iraq and believe a strong and immediate commitment to supporting Iraqi authorities is needed from the international community as well as the other states in the region, the statement read.

The Bulgarian foreign minister strongly condemned the barbaric murder of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Iraq, saying it was yet another act of cruelty by the IS.

Russia has sent a note of protest to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry demanding to bring to justice those guilty of desecration of a monument to Soviet warriors.

“We express our deep indignation at the desecration of the monument to Soviet warriors-liberators in Lozenets district in Sofia on the night of August 17,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released Wednesday.

“In light of this outrageous act of vandalism, a note of protest was sent at once to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry demanding taking measures to prevent incidents of this kind in the future, bringing those guilty of the act to justice and restoring the respectable look of the monument,” the ministry continued in the statement, as cited by Ria Novosti.

The Soviet monument was covered in red paint at the night of August 17. This is not the first time that the monument – ossuary of Soviet soldiers has been vandalized. It was painted red on the eve of the celebrations of the 123rd anniversary of the Socialist Movement in Bulgaria and the Day of the Bulgarian Socialist Party on August 2.

On May 8, the flags of Ukraine and the European Union were painted on it, with the words "Europe Day instead of Victory Day" in reference to the celebrations of the Day of peace and unity in Europe and of the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in the Second World War both marked on May 9.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is to sign a decree on dissolving the Verkhovna Rada and calling early parliamentary elections next week.

"I think it is 95% likely that there will be a presidential decree next week on dissolving the Verkhovna Rada and calling early parliamentary elections, as the 30-day time frame for forming a new coalition will expire within the next few days," presidential adviser Oleg Medvedev said on Radio Liberty, as cited by Interfax.

"Nobody is trying" to form a new coalition and is not planning to try, and therefore the president will be entitled to dissolve the parliament, he added.

Factions UDAR and Svoboda have previously announced that they quit the coalition. If MPs do not form a new coalition before the end of August, according to the Constitution, the Ukrainian president will have all reasons to dissolve the parliament and announce early parliamentary elections on October 26, Itar-Tass informs.

Total turnover index in transportation, storage and post sector increased by 13.4% in Q2 2014 compared to the same quarter of 2013.

The greatest increase was observed in Warehousing and support activities for transportation-by 24.1%.

According to the preliminary data in the second quarter of 2014 the total turnover index for section Transportation, storage and post,calculated on the basis of seasonally adjusted data, was 1.7% higher than in the previous quarter. The highest growth was registered in Warehousing and support activities for transportation - by 4.6%, Bulgaria's Statistical Institute preliminary data showed.

The total turnover index in section Information and communication decreased by 1.4% in comparison with the previous quarter. An increase was seen in Information service activities and Publishing activities by 4.1 and 0.6%, respectively.

The downward trend in water transport continued with a decline of 43.8%.

Increase was seen in Information service activities-by 21.1%, while reduction was observed in Telecommunications-by 8.1% and Publishing activities-by 1.0%. In Other business services the biggest growth in comparison with the second quarter of 2013 was observed in Security and investigation activities (15.0%) and Activities of head offices; management consultancy activities (14.0%).

A decline was reported in the other professional, scientific and technical activities-by 10.4% and advertising and market research-by10.0%.

Sofia City Court released on Thursday Bulgarian Corpbank's Chief Accountant Mariya Dimova and her deputy Borislava Kyuchukova on a recognizance.

Dimova has spent the past weeks under house arrest, and Kyuchukova was the only one out of four detainees that had so far remained in custody.

The court ruled that there was no risk for the defendants to commit any other crime if they are freed, as both have a clean record and are currently unemployed.

Thursday's decision means that all four detainees in the KTB affair have been freed of custody.

Dimova and Kyuchukova, alongside Corporate Commercial Bank (Corpbank or KTB)'s CEO Orlin Rusev and Chief Cashier Margarita Petrova, were earlier accused of being part of an embezzlement scheme that allegedly led to the draining of BGN 206 M from the bank.

The two accountants are facing charges of complicity to the embezzlement which the prosecutors claim was committed by Rusev and Petrova.

During the court's session Nikolay Rangelov, lawyer of Dimova, said that the interim report of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB)-appointed quaestors, who are in charge of carefully examining the situation at KTB, revealed the BGN 206 M were in fact not "missing" from the bank, but were tantamount to the liabilities a company was yet to pay to the bank.

Chief Cashier Margarita Petrova was released last week, while KTB's chief executive Orlin Rusev was freed of detention on a BGN 10 000 bail in mid-July.

On Monday, Rusev and Dimova were interrogated again at the Sofia Investigation Office, but declined to comment afterwards.

US officials acknowledged that a military mission aiming to free reporter James Foley and other hostages from IS captivity had failed.

FBI meanwhile announced a video footage of Foley's beheading by the Sunni militants known as Islamic State (IS) posted online Tuesday was authentic, according to the Global Post, one of the outlets for which the journalist worked.

The Pentagon said in a statement quoted by ABC that an attempt of a rescue operation designed to free American hostages in Syria "involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network" within IS.

It added that the mission was not successful as "the hostages were not present at the targeted location".

Officials from the Obama administration are quoted by the BBC as saying that dozens of special troops had been dropped by aircraft into Syria in recent weeks as part of the mission.

IS argued in the video the execution was carried out in retaliation for US air strikes against its fighters in Iraq.

After Foley blames the US government's ongoing bombing campaign in Iraq for his imminent death, a masked militant who can be seen behind him warns US President Barack Obama against attempting to "deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic caliphate", which in his words "will result in the bloodshed of [Obama's] people".

Obama himself compared the insurgents to a "cancer".

He condemned their act as violence that "shocks the conscience of the entire world".

Experts are still seeking to establish the identity of the man who kills Foley in the video, with some intelligence sources cited by British papers saying that he was born in London and calls himself John.

According to the Daily Telegraph he belongs to a group of British-born militants which other jihadists call "The Beatles" because of their origin.

Bulgaria's tennis star Grigor Dimitrov will appear on the pages of one of the most popular magazines in the world, the American edition of Vogue, in September.

For years, the magazine has been widely considered to be the trendsetter in the world of fashion.

Images from the photo shoot of Dimitrov have been circulating on social networks. Fans are already impatient to get their copy of the fashion bible's September issue, Gong.bg informs.

The photos show a handsome Grigor wearing a negligee-style yet elegant Ralph Lauren suit with a loose bow tie and rolled up trouser legs.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is due to pick a successor to take over from Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Turkey's Prime Minister.

At a party meeting on Tuesday chaired for the last time by Erdogan, who won August 10's presidential elections and will have to vacate the office, it will be informally clear whether reports that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has already been tipped to assume the post.

Hurriyet Daily News reports outgoing President Abdullah Gul as saying at his farewell reception on August 19 as hinting who would become Prime Minister.

In his words Davutoglu was a likely successor as AKP Chairman, which would also give him the PM's seat.

Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz warned journalists against making conclusions before the party meeting.

“Our Mr. President said: ‘As far as I see, Mr. Davutoğlu seems at the forefront.’ It shouldn’t be interpreted as the announcement of a name. This will become official with the final meeting, which will be held by our Mr. Prime Minister, our newly-elected President,” Yildiz explained.

Reports in some media outlets have alleged over the past week that most AKP delegates prefer Davutoglu to Gul as Prime Minister, despite months of speculations that Gul might choose to take over the party chairmanship and Turkey could thus see a "Putin-Medvedev style" transition of power.

The outgoing President, however, made clear he would not seek the office.

Toni Krastev has been appointed the new executive director of Bulgaria's Executive Forest Agency.

Krastev is to replace former head of the Agency Grigor Gogov who was dismissed in the first days after the caretaker government took office because of poor control and vitiated procedures for the appointment of natural parks directors, Bulgaria's national radio informs.

Toni Krastev was a head of the Forest Agency from 2000 to 2001, and until now has worked as an expert in one of the agency's departments.

Bulgaria's Caretaker Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki has announced the names of ten advisers who are to enter his team, the Council of Ministers' press office said.

Georgi Georgiev, a former Deputy Minister of Regional Development (2001-2003) and former Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education (2001-2003), will become Bliznashki's Chief of Staff.

Prof. Emiliya Drumeva, a Constitutional Court judge between 2003 and 2012 and a renowned lecturer, will be his adviser on electoral affairs. Previous reports suggested she might take the position of a minister in charge of the elections, an office which Bliznashki later renounced to have in the cabinet.

Denitsa Zheleva, an adviser on foreign policy, is a Master of Scandinavian Studies, Americna Studies and Economic Psychology from the Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Bonn, Germany. She has worked at the Konrad Adenauer on projects within the Southeast Europea media program.

Tsvyatko Georgiev will advise Bliznashki on national security affairs. His professional experience includes the State Agency for National Security (DANS) and the National Service for Protection under the President of the Republic of Bulgaria (NSO). Georgiev has participated in NATO's Security Committee and the Specialized Committee.

Maya Ivanova will be the Prime Minister's judicial adviser, after holding a similar position at the maritime administration department of the Transport Ministry over the past year.

Gancho Ganchev, who heads the Economics Faculty at the South-West University in Blagoevgrad, will advise Bliznashki on economic affairs.

The European affairs will be handed to Hristo Hristev, a lecturer of EU law at Sofia University's Faculty of Law.

Veselin Ninov will advise Bliznashki on media policy. Between 2010 and 2012 he was a senior expert at the Ministry of Finance, and from February that year to 2014 was at the President's press office.

Another entirely academical person, Asoc. Prof. Yuliyana Mateeva, who heads the Legal Sciences Faculty at the Varna Free University, will be the adviser on reforms to the Criminal Code.

Prof. Kalin Yanakiev, a Philosophy lecturer at the Sofia University and a staunch supporter of last year's student protests, will advise Bliznashki on spiritual affairs.

Manuela Maleeva, Bulgaria's most successful tennis player, will be the sports adviser.

Some of the advisers' names had already leaked to the media on Wednesday.

Ukrainian heavyweight professional boxer Wladimir Klitschko is training hard for the big match with Bulgaria's Kubrat Pulev in September.

Klitschko will compete to defend his title against Pulev in an IBF World Championship match on 06 September 2014 in Hamburg, Germany.

As German Bild points out, Klitschko is working with 15 sparring partners, all of whom were said to imitate Pulev's boxing style. This is the most intense training program the world champion has had so far.

Klitschko and his opponents box for a series of 14 rounds, compared to a normal match of up to 12 rounds.

“Wladimir is training like a beast. He is the only heavyweight boxer in the world who can box for 15-16 rounds at such a fast pace,” head trainer Johnathon Banks told Bild.

Currently, Klitschko's sparring partners include Brit Anthony Joshua and Americans Dorsett Barnwell, Malik Scott, and Kevin Johnson, Bulgarian Trud Daily notes.

Currently, there are no suspects for the murder of the businessman Semko Semkov, who was shot dead in Bulgaria's Botevgrad, Wednesday.

Police are working on two versions – possible enemies or unsettled business, Nova Tv reports.

Semkov has not received any threats, his friends and business partners say he has not complained about having any problems.

The investigation clearly showed that Semkov has been followed, and that his murder was planned - there were no broken cameras in his home.

Forensic pathologists have so far found four bullets, probably from a Makarov pistol, inside Semkov's body.

The businessman's financial status is to be investigated, as well. A check up in the trade register shows that Semkov managed over 15 companies, he was in the board of directors of three associations and of the football club Balkan Botevgrad, and he ran a concession for the hunting and forestry in the village of Litakovo, Nova Tv informed.

"He was an outstanding person. He did not have any bodyguards, and he did not carry a gun. The last time we spoke, we talked about hunting. I did not sense any worry in his voice," former MP from GERB Emil Dimitrov, who is also a close friend of Semkov, told Nova Tv.

Bulgaria's interim Defense Minister Velizar Shalamanov has decided to replace Veselin Ivanov, Director of the Defense Information Service, media sources say.

No specific motives are cited to be behind the expected move, but the daily Presa, which has issued the report, suggests it could be explained with the military intelligence service's delay in handing documents to the Files Commission, the institution managing the files of the Socialist-era state security agency DS.

Presa quotes experts as calling the shift a "risky" venture, with recent developments in Ukraine and the conflict with Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East in sight.

A total of twenty-two parties and seven coalitions are now registered at the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) as the deadline expired on Wednesday, August 20.

Two parties were denied registration.

The signatures all candidates have introduced to take part in the snap poll scheduled for October 5 are now to be checked at the Civil Registration and Administrative Services (GRAO) Department at the Ministry of Regional Development, the CEC's Spokesman Aleksandar Andreev explained.

Parties and coalitions will be allowed to make changes to their lists until September 2.

The election campaign is due to kick off on September 5.

Russia has decided to exclude some of the food products on which it imposed a ban earlier in August, a decree published on the government's website shows.

Lactose-free milk, potatoes, small salmons and trouts for breeding-pools, potato and onion seedlings, hybrid sugar corn and peas, and also biologically active supplements.

The document, bearing the signature of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, partially eases restrictions introduced on August 7 in response to the sanctions that the EU and the US imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

The ban also included Australia, Canada and Norway.

Some of the exemptions follow a letter from the Consumer Protection Society in which the organization demanded that certain product be removed from the list to the benefit of sportsmen and citizens having lactose and gluten intolerance or suffering from diabetes.

Reports quoted by various media outlets meanwhile revealed Belarus had dropped a ban on cattle imports from the EU.

Belarus is planning to increase its food exports to Russia by 15 to 40 percent this year, but authorities rule out that the restrictions could have been scrapped for that purpose, citing a decreased risk of the Schmallenberg virus to be behind the move.

Interim Finance Minister Rumen Porozhanov has voiced concerns that the current account deficit could reach 3 percent in 2014.

Under the State Budget of the Republic of Bulgaria Act the deficit is projected at 1.8% for the year, after the previous Parliament failed to pass an update to the fiscal plan proposed by Plamen Oresharski's cabinet.

The deficit stood at BGN 1.15 B in July and is expected to grow by at lest BGN 355 M, data from the Ministry of Finance shows, a figure slightly beyond the target for the entire 2014.

This a sharp increase compared to July 2013, when it was BGN 168.2 M, or to July 2012, when a surplus of BGN 200.3 was registered.

Porozhanov cited the BGN 900 M gap in the budget's income statement as the most serious issue.

He added that blocked EU funding under various operational programs is having negative repercussions.

"We will try to maintain the deficit up to 3 percent, which conforms to the Maastricht criteria, in order not to enter an excessive deficit procedure," the website Dariknews.bg quoted Porozhanov as saying.

The European Commission launches an Excessive deficit procedure (EDP) against any member state breaching the agreements of the Stability and Growth Pact, under which every EU country has to keep its current account deficit below three percent.

In Porozhanov's words, a new budget act for 2015 should be prepared at an expert level so that the next cabinet, which is due to be formed after a snap poll this autumn, should be able to review it as soon as possible.

He reminded that even if parties fail to quickly to agree on government, the Parliament, which will be formed after the elections, will be able to receive a draft budget bill.

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