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News from Bulgaria / May 6, 96

From: bulgaria@access1.digex.net (Embassy of Bulgaria)

Bulgarian Telegraph Agency Directory

EMBASSY OF BULGARIA - WASHINGTON D.C.

BTA - BULGARIAN TELEGRAPH AGENCY

6 May, 1996


CONTENTS

  • [01] SOLANA DEPARTS FROM BULGARIA

  • [02] NATO SECRETARY GENERAL'S VISIT GETS HIGH PRAISE

  • [03] NO OBSTACLES FOR THE RETURN OF SIMEON II

  • [04] NEW FOREIGN-EXCHANGE CRISIS IN BULGARIA

  • [05] TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY UP FOR SALE

  • [06] THREE POLICEMEN KILLED THIS MORNING

  • [07] SPRING '96 FAIR: THE BIGGEST SINCE 1989

  • [08] MEETING OF GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE ON EUROPEAN INTEGRATION

  • [09] PAN-BALKAN FOREIGN MINISTERS' MEETING TO BE HELD IN SOFIA IN JUNE

  • [10] PRESIDENT ZHELEV ON REFORMS AND INTEGRATION IN EUROPE

  • [11] DEPUTY P.M. GECHEV: BULGARIA TO SIGN AGREEMENT WITH IMF

  • [12] P.M. VIDENOV: CABINET TO CONSIDER TWO-YEAR BUDGET

  • [13] DEPUTY P.M. GECHEV ON U.N. COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

  • [14] THREE KILLED POLICEMEN BURIED TODAY

  • [15] P.M. VIDENOV TO PROPOSE NEW INTERIOR MINISTER


  • [01] SOLANA DEPARTS FROM BULGARIA

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - "Thank you and friendship," were the two key words with which NATO Secretary General Javier Solana departed from Bulgaria completing his visit to this country. "There is a lot of work ahead on bilateral dialogue with your country," Solana also said. According to him, Bulgaria and NATO need time and will probably know more about each other by the end of December.

    [02] NATO SECRETARY GENERAL'S VISIT GETS HIGH PRAISE

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - Bulgarian Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski today praised highly the official visit of NATO Secretary General Javier Solana to Sofia. "I believe that the [NATO] Secretary General left Bulgaria with the impression that there is a normal process of discussion going on here, as in a democratic country: with different standpoints and different views, based, however, on common principles and values and placing national security as a top priority for this country," Foreign Minister Pirinski said after the end of Javier Solana's visit.

    Pirinski said Solana was particularly interested in the preparation of a meeting of Balkan foreign ministers to be held in Sofia in a month's time at this country's initiative, and the likelihood for it to be followed by a meeting of defence ministers in the second half of 1996. Solana reportedly said that regional cooperation - always beneficial for security and the development of a region - matches fully the approach NATO is trying to introduce for the building of security networks, of a system of European and regional agreements capable of fending off any threat for European and regional security. "In this sense he [Solana] was particularly interested in, and mostly supportive of, this initiative," said Pirinski.

    The Foreign Minister would not comment on the memorandum that the opposition Union of Democratic Forces handed yesterday to the NATO Secretary General requesting consultations between NATO and the Bulgarian opposition on the progress of negotiations on Bulgaria's accession to the North Atlantic Alliance. Pirinski described the memorandum as frivolous to a degree making it embarrassing for him to comment it.

    [03] NO OBSTACLES FOR THE RETURN OF SIMEON II

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski said in Parliament today that there are no obstacles for the return of exiled Bulgarian monarch Simeon II to Bulgaria. Pirinski said this in response to an interpellation by Union of Democratic Forces floor leader Yordan Sokolov on whether obstacles were not being raised to the planned visit of Simeon II to Bulgaria with the delay of the extension of his Bulgarian passport.

    Pirinski explained that Simeon's passport was issued without a standard public registry number. The procedure for issuing a standard public registry number is simple and does not entail any problems as Simeon II has never been deprived of Bulgarian citizenship. "There are no obstacles to Simeon's representatives in Sofia receiving his standard public registry number. The problem is being complicated neither by the Bulgarian consulate in Madrid nor by any other service," Pirinski said.

    The Bulgarian Foreign Minister rejected accusations that the delay in the extension of Simeon II passport was a political commission. Pirinski said that the Government does not in the least doubt the right of any Bulgarian citizen to return to Bulgaria, refuting press allegations, including in today's press. Pirinski also recalled a recent government statement citing constitutional texts under which every Bulgarian national has the right to return to his country. In its statement the Bulgarian Government said it expects Simeon to declare - like every Bulgarian citizen, loyalty to the Constitution and the form of government in Bulgaria. "But this is not a condition for extending the term of Simeon's passport, for his right to return and for entering this country but a natural, according to us, expectation, under the circumstances," the Bulgarian Foreign Minister said.

    [04] NEW FOREIGN-EXCHANGE CRISIS IN BULGARIA

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - After the US dollar leapt to 120 leva selling at some foreign-exchange offices yesterday, it is already clear that a number of financiers and bank dealers were proved right when they predicted another forex crisis in Bulgaria this spring. On the inter-bank market, the dollar was going at 105 leva yesterday. Sofia-based money changers told BTA today that the greenback is expected to be strengthening further, by as much as 5 leva a day, probably until it hits the 150 leva mark. This is the first dollar spike against the Bulgarian currency of such magnitude since the spring of 1994. The lev came under pressure on the local currency market back at the beginning of the year. The psychological barrier of 75 leva for a dollar was crossed in February, after which panic buying of hard currency began at whatever levels, no matter how high, BTA was told by a dealer. In a bid to check the rally of the dollar, the central bank raised the base interest rate from 34 to 42 per cent in early February and to 49 per cent a month later. On both occasions, the move was intended to halt the appreciation of the US currency, but unlike now it came complete with central bank interventions, which contributed to the depletion of the country's official reserves. Emil Harsev, a prominent financial expert and former vice governor of the central bank, then told Bulgarian National Radio that inflation is not without its advantages and that the appreciation of hard currency automatically leads to an increase of budget revenue. The 1996 national budget, however, is based on a maximum average exchange rate of 80 leva per dollar and an annual inflation of just 20 per cent. The National Statistical Institute projected that the dollar would reach 90-95 leva and annual inflation 35 per cent in 1996. By the end of March, merely 16.6 per cent of the projected annual budget revenue was collected. "The National Bank does not intervene on the currency market for obvious reasons, as of today the foreign-exchange reserves stand at 670 million dollars," central bank Governor Lyubomir Filipov told reporters yesterday. Just ten days ago the reserves were 33 million dollars larger. More than one third of the reserves are in highly liquid US Treasury bonds, he specified. Even a drastic hike of the base interest rate by 18 percentage points, to 67 per cent p.a., which the BNB introduced last Friday, failed to prevent the dollar spike. Some 300 million dollars in foreign-debt payment are falling due this coming July, Mr Filipov said. The lev will continue to depreciate smoothly, he predicted after a meeting of the BNB Governing Board yesterday. "Unpleasant as it may be, this is an accurate indication that our economy is as competitive as it was in the first quarter of last year. The Government will not press for a reduction of base interest," the BNB Governor said, quoting what Prime Minister Zhan Videnov had told him on Monday. "I wouldn't recommend the risk of buying expensive dollars right now," the BNB Governor told reporters yesterday. "Everything is going according to plan," he said without elaborating. Foreign-currency deposits will not be blocked, and this is guaranteed. No such a measure was resorted to used even during the 1990 crisis, he recalled. Foreign- exchange deposits are still a resource which can be used moderately, the BNB believes. "BNB still has some unused instruments to influence the exchange rate, but the market must learn to function on its own," Mr Filipov said, reiterating the central bank's position. He does not think that an increase of the minimum reserve assets which commercial banks are required to keep deposited with the BNB is feasible. "I would rather not comment on what measures might be taken," he said. This is so because a large number of banks are in a grave liquidity crisis. Increased exports and hard-currency earnings will do the trick, the Governor emphasized. Commercial banks' CEOs met at the BNB yesterday to consider interaction on the forex market. Mr Filipov did not confirm on the record that an agreement had been reached. The crisis in the Bulgarian banking sector broke out at the end of 1995. The Bank Consolidation Company and the Ministry of Economic Development drafted a banking sector stabilization programme, which was approved by the Council of Ministers last December. Experts have yet to evaluate the impact of the new surge of inflation on the implementation of this programme.

    [05] TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY UP FOR SALE

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - A privatization procedure for the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTC) Ltd. will be initiated within a couple of weeks. This is slated as Bulgaria's largest privatization sale until the end of the century. "Next week we expect from the Government the go-ahead for privatization of a 25 per cent stake in BTC," the Executive Director of the Privatization Agency Vesselin Blagoev told a news conference today. The request was filed a month ago, and within one week the Cabinet is expected to give its consent, and all formalities involved in the official initiation of a privatization procedure will be completed within a fortnight.

    The sale has to be cleared with the Government because BTC is on the list of enterprises which can only be privatized with the consent of the Cabinet and in which the State must retain a majority interest. BTC is a leading performer in the Bulgarian economy. The company was incorporated in 1992, after the regulator and operator functions in telecommunications were separated by a decision of the Council of Ministers. BTC and the Bulgarian Posts Ltd. were then granted exclusive rights as a national telecommunications and a national postal operator, respectively. BTC maintains, builds and operates the national communications network. BTC's tangible fixed assets were valued at 13,106 million leva at the end of 1991 but must be worth a lot more now. The sale of BTC will be the largest privatization deal in Bulgaria this century, with a very long lasting effect, Mr Blagoev believes. The privatization involves a major investment in hard currency. It will ramify in a transfer of new technologies, training of highly qualified telecoms experts and job creation, he added. Mr Blagoev would not commit himselft to a definite time limit for finalization of the sale. "On the average, they usually take nine months," he explained.

    [06] THREE POLICEMEN KILLED THIS MORNING

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - Three policemen were shot dead with an assault rifle early this morning, the Trade Union of Policemen and, later on, the Sofia Directorate of the Interior said. This happened in a Sofia borough called Lyulin. According to witnesses' testimony, the alleged attackers ran away in a red carl; one of them is probably wounded in the stomach, national radio said. The scene of the crime and the vicitnity are sealed off by the police. The inspection of the crime scene is going on. Later today the Interior Ministry press centre announced the names of the victims: Captain Yordan Binev and Sergeant-Major Krassimir Troshanov of the Regional Directorate of the Interior in Sofia, and Sergeant-Major Angel Angelov of Borough Police Department 9. They were conducting an operation to track down persons suspected of blackmailing and intimidating an Interior Ministry employee.

    The policemen, who worked for the criminal police sections of the Regional Directorate of the Interior and Borough Police Department 9, were shot down dead by two men they tried to arrest. The Interior Ministry has blocked roads and is conducting a manhunt to detain the criminals, the Interior Ministry press centre said.

    President Zhelyu Zhelev and Prime Minister Zhan Videnov sent cables of condolences to the victims' families.

    "The flagrant criminal act is yet another proof of where the impunity of offenders of this country's law leads. The Interior Ministry and its leadership state that they will act even more firmly and uncompromisingly, within the framework of the law, the use of arms included, against the cruel, brutal and violent acts of criminals and their groupings. Nobody should doubt the Interior Ministry's determination to guarantee the lives of people and of its employees, of their rights and interests. We rely on the full understanding of the public and the state institutions in enforcing the supremacy of the law and rewarding all criminals according to their deserts."

    [07] SPRING '96 FAIR: THE BIGGEST SINCE 1989

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - Consumer goods and machinery and technologies for their production will be exhibited by 1,485 companies from 44 countries at the Spring '96 Fair in Plovdiv (Southern Bulgaria) to be held from May 6 through 11, Deputy Minister of Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation Serafim Sofroniev told a news conference today. This is the biggest spring fair in the last seven years; the exhibition area is 60,700 square metres, he specified.

    Greece, Italy, Germany, Turkey and the Czech Republic are the countries with the most company displays. The 885 Bulgarian companies participating in Spring '96 represent 60 percent of all the exhibitors. Ten countries, including Vietnam, Greece, Cyprus, Russia and France, are participating in the fair officially.

    Bulgaria's old partners from Central Europe - the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, are showing great interest in the Spring Fair again. While only 18 companies from that area took part in last year's Fair, now they are 66. The Western European companies are 264, or 50 more than in 1995. The number of exhibitors from the Far East is 23, having grown 2.5-fold.

    [08] MEETING OF GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE ON EUROPEAN INTEGRATION

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - Measures for introduction of European standards in the immigration policy intended to remove Bulgaria from the EU visa black list were discussed today at a meeting of the Government Committee on European Integration. The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, the Government's press office told BTA. The Committee approved the Bulgarian position to be presented at the first meeting of the Bulgaria-EU economic subcommittee. Deputy Minister of Economic Development Gancho Ganchev was nominated leader of the Bulgarian delegation. The meeting adopted Bulgaria's principal positions which will be presented on May 21 in Brussels at the next meeting of agriculture ministers of the EU and associated states in Central and Eastern Europe.

    The Committee suggested to the Council of Ministers to move to the Parliament for ratification the additional protocol to the Europe Agreement for opening EU's programmes for Bulgaria, which was signed on July 20, 1995. The meeting considered also Bulgaria's participation in the programmes Sokrates, Leonardo, Youth for Europe - III and Media - II, the Government's press office said.

    The Committee heard information about the meeting of senior officials from Central and Eastern European states and the European Commission, due on May 7 on the development of common European transport networks, on the needs of these states in the construction of their transport infrastructures and their linking to the European Union.

    [09] PAN-BALKAN FOREIGN MINISTERS' MEETING TO BE HELD IN SOFIA IN JUNE

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - The Pan-Balkan foreign ministers' meeting will most probably be held in Sofia within the first ten days of June, Mr Strahil Chervenkov, Head of the Southeastern Europe Department of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, told a regular news conference today. The date will be fixed today and tomorrow by the political directors of the ministries of foreign affairs of Albania, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Romania and Turkey who take part in the first preparatory meeting for the conference. Mr Chervenkov said that Croatia is attending in an observer capacity and that the representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina has not yet arrived in Sofia, while Slovenian experts do not attend even though they have not sent a refusal. According to the Bulgarian diplomat, at today's talks all delegations welcomed the idea to convene this conference and declared their readiness to contribute towards its implementation. They also supported the European orientation of the meeting and agreed in principle to the agenda as proposed by Bulgaria. The participants also discussed the elements of a Declaration on Stability, Security and Cooperation in Southeastern Europe, which the foreign ministers are to adopt at the end of the conference.

    [10] PRESIDENT ZHELEV ON REFORMS AND INTEGRATION IN EUROPE

    Sofia, May 3 (BTA) - "There are two ways for Bulgaria to emerge from its present crisis: economic reforms and integration with the Eurostructures," President Zhelyu Zhelev said, summing up his remarks at a meeting with the people of Ihtiman (Southwestern Bulgaria) this evening. He visited the town today at the invitation of Mayor Dimiter Bonev and the local chapters of the Popular Union and New Choice. In his statement, Dr Zhelev dwelt on the country's economic problems, saying that all economic sectors are in a crisis. "The Government of the Left has built a budget on sand and is now trying to escape from this situation through increase of the tax burden, but with production stagnant this is impossible. All that is achieved in this way is to scare away private enterprise and what little investment there is," the President noted. The internal debt already exceeds 350,000 million leva, Dr Zhelev said. The mistake made by all previous governments during the transition is, according to Dr Zhelev, that "we shuffled our feet and each government was hesitating instead of acting fast."

    [11] DEPUTY P.M. GECHEV: BULGARIA TO SIGN AGREEMENT WITH IMF

    Sofia, May 4 (BTA) - Bulgaria will sign an agreement with the World Bank and the IMF in mid-1996 as agreed; its partners are satisfied with the programme submitted by the Government, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development Roumen Gechev told the press today on his return from New York. There he met officials and experts of the international financial institutions. The funds earmarked for this purpose have been increased to 90 million dollars. Money extended under other World Bank programmes but not utilized by Bulgaria for various reasons will also be used. This amount includes funds for welfare benefits to people who will lose their jobs after the closure of loss-makers, Gechev said.

    Bulgaria can and will continue servicing its foreign debt, which is essential for its international economic relations, the inflow of fresh capital and the promotion of foreign investment, Gechev emphasized.

    American International Group supports the Bulgarian Government's plans. It will act as an intermediary between the Government and U.S. investors and will make investments itself. Gechev said that at a meeting organized by the Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund, more U.S. companies showed interest in investment projects in Bulgaria, mostly in communications.

    [12] P.M. VIDENOV: CABINET TO CONSIDER TWO-YEAR BUDGET

    Plovdiv, May 4 (BTA) - The idea to update the 1996 budget is not very helpful, Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, leader of the ruling Socialist Party, told the press here today. He is in Plovdiv to attend the conference of the Socialist Party's local branch. The residual problems of the 1996 budget and those of the 1997 budget had better be solved as part of a longer-term procedure, Videnov said.

    A budget for the period 1997-98, which could be adopted in October, is being considered as an option, said Videnov, adding that this would fit in with the idea for two-year structural and standby agreements with the World Bank and the IMF. This has already been put in practice in some East European countries, Videnov said.

    Given Bulgaria's huge debt service payments over the next three years, it is impossible to do without support from the international financial institutions, Videnov said. This means, however, that structural reform should make substantial progress at last: losses should be reduced at least by a quarter and production efficiency should increase through a rise in exports. The losses generated in industry are the major cause of the sharp rise of the dollar against the lev, Videnov said. The Government has worked out a possible solution to the problem but Parliament should also give it more attention.

    The Socialist Party will nominate its presidential candidate in June because possible further changes in the executive will have to be taken into account, Zhan Videnov said.

    [13] DEPUTY P.M. GECHEV ON U.N. COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

    Sofia, May 4 (BTA) - The fourth session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development was successful. Its final documents were adopted with a consensus, Deputy Prime Minister Roumen Gechev, who chaired the forum, said on his return from New York today.

    A major result of the session is the adoption of the Bulgarian proposal for a closer link between environmental protection and economic growth, investment policy in particular. This proposal, as well as the Third Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe" held in Sofia last October, led to the election of a Bulgarian minister as chairman of this UN Commission, Gechev said.

    [14] THREE KILLED POLICEMEN BURIED TODAY

    Sofia, May 5 (BTA) - Three policemen shot dead on Friday lay in state at Sofia's central cemetery for over two hours today. Officials and members of the public paid their respects to Captain Yordan Binev (35), Sergeant Major Krassimir Troshanov (46) and Sergeant Major Angel Angelov (24), killed in an operation by so far unidentified persons wearing hoods.

    The funeral ceremony was attended by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development and Construction Doncho Konakchiev, Colonel General Tsvetan Totomirov, Chief of the Bulgarian General Staff, MPs and high-ranking officers. In memory of the three policemen killed in the line of duty the Interior Ministry declared three-day mourning in all units of the Ministry from May 5 through 7.

    The Interior Ministry leadership called on its personnel to honour the memory of the three policemen with an all-out effort to clamp down on violence in the name of the law. At these hard times the Interior Ministry must spare no effort to quickly detect and arrest the killers so that they can be brought to justice, the Ministry said in a press release on Saturday.

    [15] P.M. VIDENOV TO PROPOSE NEW INTERIOR MINISTER

    Sofia, May 5 (Evgenia Droumeva of BTA) - Prime Minister Zhan Videnov announced he would ask Parliament to accept the resignation of Interior Minister Lyubomir Nachev and vote in office Nikolai Dobrev, Chairman of the Parliamentary National Security Committee, next week. Nachev was one of the most controversial figures in the Cabinet. His resignation had been demanded repeatedly both by the opposition and by Socialist MPs who criticized the Cabinet for its ineffective struggle against crime.

    Videnov did not comment a scandalous interview with Nachev aired on national television on Friday night, but there is speculation in the Sunday papers that it precipitated his resignation. "Troud" refers to the incident as "Nachev's fatal night". A television reporter spotted Nachev sitting at a table with famous Bulgarian models at a beauty contest after journalists had tried unsuccessfully to reach him all day for comment on the shooting of the three policemen. National television aired an unedited version of the interview in which Nachev told the reporter to "cut off" that part which said he was seen in company with beauty queens. The interview provoked calls by Sofia branches of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on Saturday that Nachev be expelled both from the government and from the party.

    Nikolai Dobrev, who is likely to replace Nachev, is 48, with a diploma in geophysics. He is Head of the Organization and Contacts with Local Structures Department of the BSP Supreme Council, a post which won him the alias "the BSP's Grey Eminence" from the press. He belongs to Videnov's inner circle in the BSP leadership, according to the press, and is one of the opponents of what are known as "perestroichiks" among the former party leaders (the best known of whom are former Socialist leader Alexander Lilov and ex-premier Andrei Loukanov).

    There has been no reaction from the Socialist Party to Nachev's proposed replacement with Dobrev. The Sunday press, however, reported a statement made by BSP Deputy Chairman Yanaki Stoilov in Razgrad on Saturday that "the crisis in government is a fact". Stoilov also said Videnov's Cabinet could be saved only by personnel changes. Also on Saturday Videnov said new Cabinet changes should be expected in June.

    Ivan Kostov, leader of the largest parliamentary opposition force, the Union of Democratic Forces, said on Sunday Nachev's resignation had come too late, calling it an "attempt to free from blame the government which is unable to cope with crime".

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