Balkan Airlines resumed flights after pilots and engineers ended a nine-day strike, the result of an agreement being reached with the management on future pay rises.The Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce acted on behalf of the government and employer in the dispute, mediated the agreement. The end of the strike came after Prime Minister Ivan Kostov yesterday threatened to liquidate the company if no agreement was reached, and after the airline's Israeli owner, the Zeevi Group, threatened to pull out of Bulgaria if the government failed to help end the strike.
Osman Bizanti, the Libyan lawyer representing six Bulgarian medics accused of deliberately infecting 390 Libyan children with the HIV virus, on Thursday denied in a Bulgarian paper that confessions had been obtained by force. "I did not see any marks of torture on the accused," Osman Bizanti told Agence France Presse. Wednesday's edition of the Bulgarian paper Sega quoted Bizanti as saying confessions had been forced from two of the defendants "by physical and psychological pressure." If convicted, the accused face the death penalty. The trial opened on 7 February 2000, and has already been adjourned three times. Bizanti confirmed that the next hearing is scheduled for 4 June.
Bulgaria's Central Bank governor, Svetoslav Gavriyski, held a press conference to dismiss speculation that the government is planning to end the country's currency board. "The government, the central bank and all political parties support the currency board," Gavriyski said. Under the currency board, the lev (BGL), is pegged to the Euro at a rate of BGL 1.95583 and the whole leva supply is backed by hard currency reserves. The governor added that Bulgaria will insist on keeping its currency board until it joins the EU's monetary union.
Standard & Poor's raised Bulgaria's long-term foreign currency rating to B+ from B. It has also raised the long-term lev rating and senior unsecured ratings to BB-minus from B and affirmed its short-term ratings at B. "The upgrade reflects the Bulgarian government's success in building a credible economic policy framework under the currency board introduced in mid-1997," S&P said. Modest budget deficits, low inflation, robust economic growth, and sustainable current account deficits, in the context of growing foreign direct investment inflows, have put Bulgaria's heavy debt burden and external vulnerability on a declining path.
The Twentieth Plovdiv Fair for consumer goods opened on Monday last week. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Peter Jotev said at the opening that there are over 1440 companies of 37 countries participating. Italy and Germany were the most heavily represented foreign countries. The Plovdiv Fair has evolved to attract more and more foreign companies who find it much easier to sell and distribute their goods in Bulgaria. "The relieved licensing and registration requirements encourage also foreign investors in Bulgaria," Minister Jotev said.
The Socialist Party (BSP), in an effort to boost its fading image in Bulgaria and abroad, proposed during its annual meeting a radical change of policy toward seeking NATO membership. He explained that the new position on NATO was "a natural step in the party's evolution on this issue." However, in an attempt to appease hard-liners intent against Bulgaria's opening up to the West, the moderate party leader said the issue should be decided in a referendum. Bulgaria hopes to join NATO in its next round of enlargement.
Rupert Murdoch's media company News Corp said last week it had started Bulgaria's first private national TV channel and was hoping for further expansion in various fields in the Balkans. News Corp fully owns the channel and has a broadcasting license for 15 years and programming rights for 10. "We will have very serious and expensive programming by October and we think we will be very, very competitive," Pompadur said.
Initial investment would be USD 20 million but may increase if the company needed to buy land and build its own studio, he said. The company aimed at breaking even in three years and then moving to profitability, Pompadur said. BTV will be headed by News Corp appointee Al Parsons. All other 150 full-time staff will be Bulgarian citizens who will have to take an obligation of non-bias - a sensitive issue in the country, which faces a general election next year.
Nadia Rozeva, 12 May 2000