The National court of Libya has adjourned the trial of six Bulgarian medics and nine Arabs accused of deliberately infecting 393 Libyan children with the HIV virus. The defense lawyer for the Bulgarians said he had had insufficient time to examine 1600 pages of prosecution material. The trial first began in February, but was postponed at the request of the defense. Nineteen Bulgarians were detained in February of last year and consequently thirteen were released, but the six Bulgarians, as well as eight Libyans and a Palestinian, were charged with intentionally infecting the children, of which more than 20 have already died. If the court determines that the Bulgarians really did this, they will be executed. Bulgaria has repeatedly said it does not believe its medics are guilty, and has called for a fair trial.
Bulgaria and Romania turned to NATO and the EU for aid in restoring the navigation on the Danube River, blocked by bridge-wreckage during the bombings against Yugoslavia last year. The cleaning will cost close to EUR 24 million. Bulgaria reportedly has suffered a total of EUR 11.5 million in losses to its Danube fleet and ports since May 1999. Four Bulgarian tugboats with 26 barges are still blocked upstream and can't return home, and shipping authorities said that 70 per cent of the fleet has been idle and 40 per cent of the marines have been laid off. Prime Minister Kostov and his Romanian counterpart Isărescu have asked for immediate actions.
Bulgaria's cabinet approved the sale of a 51 per cent stake in the state-controlled telecommunications company to the Greek-Dutch consortium OTE/KPN. Last month OTE/KPN raised their offer to USD 600 million from USD 510 million for a majority stake, which would include a license to set up Bulgaria's third mobile phone network. The Greek-Dutch partnership has agreed to invest USD 350 million over three years to upgrade Bulgaria's fixed-line network and set up the new cellular network. Another USD 200 million in profits will be allocated to Bulgaria's local government authorities under a profit-sharing scheme.
Retired German Brigadier General Heinz Loquai, advisor to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and an observer in Kosovo in 1998, denied having claimed in his book The Kosovo Conflict: The War That Could Have Been Avoided, that the Bulgarian secret services had anything to do with the delivery of a plan named "Horseshoe" for ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians. Interviewed by the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (BTA), Loquai said: "I want to make one thing crystal clear: the allegation that there is something in my book about an involvement of the Bulgarian secret services is an awful irresponsible lie."
Pleven Light, the Pleven Brewery newest beer, was launched last week. Bulgarian and Belgian brewers worked for over a year to meet the EU quality standards. Belgium's Interbrew, co-owner of the brewery, has invested over DM 1 million in the new beer. Plevensko Pivo has 11 per cent of the market share in Bulgaria with 43 million litres of beer per year. The company's profit for 1999 was 20 per cent higher than in 1998.
The Donors Conference, which took place in Brussells last week, has raised EUR 2.4 billion for the development of the Balkan region. Bulgaria will get 21.4 percent of the investment and will receive an overall investment of EUR 827 million. Three Bulgarian quick-start projects are to be financed: the second bridge over the Danube river at Vidin-Calafat, the reconstruction of Sofia Airport, and the renovation of the ports along the Danube. The short-term projects are seven and will be financed with EUR 667 million. The conference, organized by the Stability Pact, the World Bank and the European Commission, approved 85 quick-start and short-term infrastructure projects in the region for EUR 3.86 billion.
The average unemployment rate is to drop to 13.5 per cent by the end of 2001 from the current 17.2 percent, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said last week. A national employment plan will be drawn up by the end of the year, Kostov added. To promote employment, the Government has drafted a bill amending the Protection in Unemployment and Employment Promotion Act, as well as a bill on the social investment fund which will start financing employment-related projects in 2001. The expected drop in unemployment is based on economic growth projections of four per cent in 2000.
The National Assembly voted 137-60 on first reading a bill declaring the Communist regime in Bulgaria between 9 September, 1944 and 1989 unlawful. The bill was supported by Members of Parliament of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), the Popular Union, the Alliance for National Salvation and one independent deputy. All socialist MPs, one of the Euro-Left and five independent voted against and two Euro-Left MPs abstained. After the vote the MPs of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP, successor of the Communist party) walked out. The bill enumerates the crimes of the Communist regime, declares the regime and the Communist party unlawful and culpable and lifts the statute of limitation from crimes committed by the regime. BSP leader Georgi Purvanov described the bill as the most crazy and confrontational one after 1989. The speeches were received with disapproval from both sides.
"The risk of a conflict in Serbia is credible, and this is a risk in immediate proximity to Bulgaria's border," Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said before the Bulgarian National Television last week. Kostov said that serious tensions are latent in southern Serbia because of the self-proclaimed Army for the Liberation of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medveza. Kostov added that "it is possible action by the police or by the Yugoslav army may trigger a wave of refugees from southern Serbia, mainly Serbians, to Macedonia, which may destabilize Macedonia". Yet another concern in the risk of a clash between the Albanian KLA and the KFOR troops in Kosovo. The Prime Minister also said he does not think that the international community has achieved much one-year after the war over Kosovo. His statement came out on the day of the one-year anniversary from the start of NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.
The accession negotiations between the EU and the six countries from the Helsinki group started Tuesday last week. At the meeting, Bulgaria was represented by Alexander Bozhkov. The Bulgarian representatives were officially briefed on the six chapters with which the country will start its negotiations with the EU: science and research, education and training, culture and audiovisual policy, small and medium-sized undertakings, external relations and common foreign and security policy. Chief negotiator Bozhkov presented Bulgaria's stand on two more chapters - statistics and telecommunications and information technology. Bulgaria was the only country from the Helsinki group that presented positions on more than the initially set chapters which fact was hailed at the meeting and the country was congratulated on its pragmatic approach. The next meeting is scheduled for May.
The Dutch-Greek consortium KPN/OTE said they raised their bid for Bulgaria's national phone company to USD 600 million. This is the third offer of the consortium and it comes after the government in December rejected their last offer, to pay USD 510 million offer for 51 percent of Bulgarian Telecommunications Co. The state said it would seek a higher price because of a better-than- expected earnings outlook for the company. "The Bulgarian economy is developing favorably, so that good opportunities for expansion can be expected," the Dutch and Greek companies said. The first bid was in October for USD 410 million and the second in February for USD 510 million in cash.
The US oil company Texaco announced that it is buying a 25 percent stake in Prista Oil, a manufacturer and distributor of motor and industrial oil. The contract is to be signed on 3 April, said Atanas Bobokov, Chairman of the Board of Prista Oil. The Bulgarian company has a 75 percent share of the Bulgarian oil market and an 11 percent share of the Romanian market. Its products are also exported to Moldova, Macedonia and the Ukraine.
Nadia Rozeva, 7 April 2000