A call for solidarity
Prime Minister Ivan Kostov appealed for solidarity with the interests of the detained Bulgarians in Libya, in connection with the upcoming trial against them on 17 September, the government's Information Service said on Tuesday of last week. Six Bulgarian medics (one physician and five nurses) were charged with contaminating 393 Libyan children with AIDS. "I would like to urge for solidarity with the interests of the arrested Bulgarian citizens. Today, solidarity can be shown by restraint regarding Libya, so as to create a favourable atmosphere for the holding of an objective and fair trial," said Kostov.
"In the past months of hard work on the preparation of the process and providing of the Bulgarian medics' defence, the position of the Bulgarian government towards the Libyan side was tolerant. Our motives involved complying with the interests of our compatriots, the preserving of our [good] relations with the Arab countries and taking care of the thousands of Bulgarians working in Libya. This position was highly assessed by the Libyan side and by all who understand the problem in depth," the Prime Minister also said. The Prime Minister appealed for an all-Bulgarian position on the eve of the trial.
Air pollution and radiation
Environmental Minister Evdokia Maneva met with her Romanian counterpart, Romica Tomescu, in Sofia last week to discuss problems affecting the two countries, focusing on the Romanian Turnu Măgurele chemical plant, which regularly pollutes the air in Bulgarian cities across the Danube, and the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. The two ministers later visited the Bulgarian town of Russe and the Romanian town of Călăraşi.
Later in the week, Maneva told journalists that, at a daily cabinet session, she submitted a memorandum demanding the resignation of Georgi Kaschiev, chairman of the State Agency on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. Maneva said that, at the beginning of the week, Kaschiev made a statement about a high level of background radiation on the territory of Bulgaria.
The environment minister was adamant in asserting that no abnormal levels of background radiation had been recorded on any single day in Bulgaria. At the same time, she said, because of Georgi Kaschiev's statement, we received requests for explanations from other countries, such as Turkey and Romania.
Bulgaria off the black list?
France backs Bulgaria's removal from the "black" visa list and will work towards this end at the meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council at the end of September, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine assured Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhaylova in New York. France, which now holds the Presidency of the European Union, is highly appreciative of the fast pace of Bulgaria's EU accession negotiations. According to Vedrine, Bulgaria is already among the countries immediately behind the frontrunner candidates.
Bulgaria was one of the 12 countries wanting to join the European Union present in Vilnius last week, where negotiators gathered to compare notes and demonstrate their solidarity as they continue the complex negotiations with the EU. "The accession negotiations could be concluded with any prepared candidate country during the year 2001," stated a communiqué at the end of a two-day meeting.
Invitations could be sent out a year later, with full membership being granted shortly thereafter. EU officials have refused to commit to any timetable. Politicians in some EU states say they're worried about costs of expanding to poorer Eastern Europe. Twelve new members would raise the union's population, now at some 370 million, by 30 percent, but would raise its income by only eight percent.
Hemus Air for saleBulgaria opened a bid for a 51 percent stake in Hemus Air, the country's second largest passenger airline. The state agency in charge of asset sales will accept bids for the 14-airplane carrier until 1 November, with an obligatory deposit of BGL 500,000 (USD 221,238). Bulgaria will sell Hemus through negotiations with potential buyers, with price being the main criterion.
The winner also will need to present a business plan for the next five years, during which it will be banned from selling Hemus shares. Arkia Israeli Ltd, and the Zeevi Group of Israel bought Bulgaria's national carrier Balkan Airlines in July 1999 for USD 105,000 plus assumed debt of USD 111 million and a pledge to invest USD 100 million by 2005. Bulgaria promised the International Monetary Fund it would sell most of its state assets under a three-year agreement that ends next year.
Drought takes its toll
Bulgaria's Agriculture Ministry said on Wednesday last week that this year's corn and sunflower seed crops would drop sharply, due to drought, but domestic needs would still be fully met. "We expect corn production of 700,000 tons and sunflower seed output of 440,000 tons," the Ministry said in a statement. Last year, Bulgaria produced two million tons of corn and 700,000 tons of sunflower seed, the Ministry said.
The statement quoted minister Ventsislav Varbanov as saying domestic needs be would fully met despite the impact of the severe three-month drought. But it did not give figures for other needs, such as seeds, food and other industrial use, and did not explain how the difference between corn needs and actual production would be covered.
Agriculture plan approved by Brussels
Bulgaria is in the first group of countries among the ten applicants for EU membership included in the SAPARD program whose national plan for the development of agriculture and forestry was approved at the Wednesday meeting of the European Commission's management committee in Brussels. The decision, which the committee approved unanimously, will now have to be confirmed by the European Commission.
In addition to the Bulgarian, the committee also reviewed the Czech, Hungarian, Latvian, Polish and Slovenian plans. The plan, which the European Commission said was among the best, was drawn up in accordance with the national plan for economic development and the national program for adoption of European legislation. SAPARD was conceived by the EU with the aim of assisting the preparation of the candidate countries' agricultural sectors during the 2000 to 2006 period. Under the programme, Bulgaria is to get EUR (euro) 53,026 in annual subsidies.
Nadia Rozeva Green, 16 September 2000
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