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• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, January 23 (BTA)
• (DF) Health Minister LiftsBan on Export of Medical Oxygen
January 22 (BTA) - Health Minister Kostadin Angelov Friday issued an order lifting the ban on the export of medical oxygen, the Health Ministry reported. The ban was introduced in mid-December 2020 due to the large number of hospitalized patients in need of oxygen treatment. In December, 452 oxygen concentrators were purchased for hospitals to prevent a shortage, and at the same time the suppliers of medical oxygen increased the number of oxygen bottles delivered. Since the start of 2021, the number of patients in need of intensive care requiring oxygen has dropped, and the Health Ministry has not received alerts about problems with oxygen deliveries. RI/DS /??/
• (NW) AI Startup Co-founded by Bulgarian Scientists Raises USD 2.8 Million
January 22 (Rositsa Ilieva of BTA) - LatticeFlow, a startup creating tools to help AI teams build AI models that are safe, reliable and trustworthy had raised 2.8 million US dollars in funding, one of the co-founders, Martin Vechev, told BTA. The money was attracted in a seed funding round led by Swiss deep-tech fund btov and Global Founders Capital, Europe's biggest hi-tech fund. LatticeFlow is a spin-off of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and was co-founded by Pavol Bilelik, Andreas Krause and Bulgarians Martin Vechev (pictured second right) and Petar Tsankov (left). Vechev said they are very happy with this initial investment, from top European investors. "This will allow us to focus on our product for several years and solve the core problems and make impact. After that we expect another, larger, series A round for delivering our product worldwide," he said. He added that the safety of AI is a very critical and important topic for society and the expectations are that progress on this dimension generates interest. The general idea behind LatticeFlow is to change the way the next generation of AI systems are built. It says that if people are to use AI in their businesses, at doctor's offices, on roads, or in their homes, companies and users need AI systems they can trust. According to Vechev, trustworthy AI means that "we can mathematically ensure that an AI system does what we expect it to do, and behaves accordingly". The most challenging aspect in his area is combining research and ideas from different areas of computing, that on the surface look different but are actually connected. For instance, methods such as machine learning and symbolic reasoning, he said. Vechev is a Professor at ETH Zurich. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and was a research staff member at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center. Previously, Vechev co-founded two ETH spin-offs which were acquired by PwC and Snyk. Tsankov holds a PhD from ETH Zurich. Before LatticeFlow, he co-founded ChainSecurity which was acquired by PwC. He graduated from Georgia Tech with two research awards and was awarded by the President of Bulgaria for his achievements in computer science. Vechev told BTA that all aspects are important in his field of work. "One should have a good idea, but also carry through and deliver results as there are many good ideas that never succeed. This requires hard work and focus over a long period of time," he said. RI/LN//
• (DF) Cabinet Has until January 26 to Designate Minister in Charge of Preparing General Elections in April
January 22 (BTA) - The Council of Ministers will have until January 26 to assign the coordination and technical organization of the parliamentary elections to a specific minister, the Central Election Commission said here on its website Friday. The elections will be held April 4. CEC said it will also open by January 26 a designated section on its website providing information about machine voting. On Wednesday, CEC elected Dimiter Glavchev Dimitrov as its Spokesperson. Dimitrov replaced Alexander Andreev, who became CEC Chair last year. RY/MY //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, January 22 (BTA)
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 455 New Cases, Less than 5% Test Positivity Rate
January 22 (BTA) - There are 455 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 7,674 tests done in 24 hours on Thursday, as reported on the national coronavirus data portal on Friday. The test positivity rate is 4.93 per cent.
• (DF) Energy Act Amended Conclusively
January 21 (BTA) - Parliament on Thursday passed conclusively amendments to the Energy Act to scrap spinning reserve auctions.
• (NW) BTA Interview: How a Maternity Hospital OperatesDuring a Pandemic andSome Positive Trends
Sofia, January 21 (Velina Vassileva of BTA) Bulgarian maternity hospitals learned the lessons of the first lockdown in the spring of 2020 and were better prepared when the government imposed a new lockdown in November, said Dr. Donka Ouzounova, head of Neonatology at Sheinovo...
• (DF) Bulgaria Adopts Law Recognizing Sign Language as Language in Its Own Right
January 21 (BTA) - Parliament adopted a law that recognizes the Bulgarian sign language as a language in its own right. Proposed by the government, the law was adopted conclusively on Thursday to make what many consider a breakthrough in deaf people's rights. According to the new law, deaf people in Bulgaria are entitled to free translation services, the cultural and language identity of their community is recognized and an attitude of respect to them will be encouraged in the broader community. The activities following from the adoption of the law will be financed by the national budget through the Labour and Social Policy Ministry, other competent institutions and medical establishments, as well as through European and international programmes. The leaders of central and local administrative units will have until the end of 2022 to roll out administrative services for deaf people. The kindergartens and schools that teach children with impaired hearing and deaf children, will have special sign language classes. Deaf students in regular schools will have the right to use sign language when they are examined or being tested. The parents of deaf children will be entitled to sign language training. Sign language teachers will have a master's degree in Bulgarian Language and Literature with additional training in sign language, and universities will be required to provide such training. Deaf university students will be entitled to 60 hours of free sign-language translation per semester. Sign language translator will be a job in its own right and translators will be trained in master's programmes and certified by established standards on a par with all other professionals. A Sign Language Board of 13 members will be established under the Education Minister to work on the development of the Bulgarian sign language. Television operators will be required to provide sign-language translation of their news programmes and programmes with such translation will be aired at least once daily in the 19:00-22:00 hrs time slot. RY/LN/ //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, January 21 (BTA)
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 482 New Cases and Less than 6% Test Positivity Rate on Thursday
January 21 (BTA) - There are 482 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 8,057 tests done in the 24 hours to Wednesday midnight, according to the national coronavirus information portal. It makes a test positivity rate of 5.9 per cent. The new cases add up to a total of 213,409 since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The active cases stand at 29,660. The daily update shows 37 deaths, putting the death toll of the pandemic at 8,651. A total of 3,220 people are in hospital, including 327 in intensive care. The recoveries stand at 4,600, adding up to 175,098 since the start of the pandemic. A total of 24,127 people have been vaccinated, including 1,901 in the last reporting period. LN/ //
• (DF) President Radev, Prime Minister Borissov, Foreign Minister Zaharieva Meet Serbian Foreign Minister Selakovic
January 20 (BTA) - During a meeting with Serbia's Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic who is on an official visit in Sofia, President Rumen Radev said that creating and maintaining all the necessary conditions with regard to the Bulgarian national minority in Serbia will also help the country's merited integration in United Europe. President Radev expressed gratitude to his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic for meeting his commitments to the Bulgarian national minority during Radev's official visit to Serbia, related to the registration of women's names, the increased funding for media and the development of the region. Minister Selakovic thanked for Bulgaria's support on Serbia's accession path to the EU, and pointed out that the two countries enjoy good economic cooperation. He added that it is necessary to find ways to increase bilateral trade, which amounted to 1.04 billion euro in 2019, and dropped to 870 million last year. As an example of economic cooperation, Selakovic pointed to the option to expand the Free Zone Pirot to include two additional areas populated predominantly by the Bulgarian national minority: Babushnitsa and Dimitrovgrad. During his official visit, Serbia's Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic also had a meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the government information service said on Wednesday. Borissov said: "Relations between Bulgaria and Serbia have always been friendly and pragmatic, and have become even more dynamic amid the coronavirus pandemic." He recalled Bulgaria's aid to Serbia in the form of reusable personal protective equipment for health workers, provided at the start of the pandemic. Borissov also noted that the EU provided financial support to the countries of the Western Balkans to meet their immediate needs of medical equipment and for their social and economic recovery. The two officials discussed key projects of shared interest, including the Europe Motorway and the Balkan Stream natural gas pipeline, as well as the start of the construction of the Bulgaria Serbia gas interconnector. It will enable Serbia to receive liquefied natural gas from the Alexandroupolis terminal, in which Bulgaria has a 20 per cent stake, said the government information service. Borissov stressed that despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, work is going on. "These projects are of exceptional importance for connectivity and for infrastructure and energy cooperation between Bulgaria and Serbia, as well as in the region and Europe," he said, adding that regional cooperation in all areas has been the cornerstone of peace, stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans. Bulgaria's support for Serbia's progress towards EU membership was also noted during the meeting. "A country can progress only on merit and on the basis of its achievements in meeting the [accession] criteria," said the Prime Minister. Borissov noted that Bulgaria had always helped and would continue to support all of its neighbours in the name of the social and economic prosperity of the peoples in the region. Later in the day, Nikola Selakovic met with Bulgaria's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva to discuss the Bulgaria-Serbia cooperation in infrastructure projects, energy and tourism. Zaharieva informed her counterpart that the last stretch of the motorway connecting Sofia and Belgrade (i.e. from Sofia to the border) will be completed by the end of the year. The two diplomats agreed to focus the efforts of the relevant ministries on opening a new border crossing checkpoint. The Bulgarian Foreign Minister reiterated that Bulgaria has always supported Serbia on its path to Europe, and her guest said that Serbia is a country that sees its future within the EU. On the topic of the Bulgarian community in Serbia, Zaharieva pointed out it represents a bridge and yet another incentive for maintaining the good relations between the two countries. She also commended Serbia's modern legislation with regard to national minorities. Selakovic informed that two of the border regions where the Bulgarian national minority lives -- Babushnitsa and Dimitrovgrad -- have undergone considerable development which will create opportunities for investment and open new jobs for the local residents. Asked why Prime Minister Borissov was not invited to the opening of the Balkan Stream gas pipeline, Selakovic said that foreign guests have not been invited because of the pandemic. RY,NV/DD,MT /??/
• (DF) EC Approves State Aid Scheme for Bulgarian SMEs Affected by Coronavirus Outbreak
January 20 (BTA) - The European Commission (EC) said on Wednesday that it has approved a 79 million euro (approximately 156 million leva) Bulgarian scheme to support micro, small, and medium enterprises affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme, which will be co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, will be accessible to enterprises active in certain sectors and meeting certain requirements defined by Bulgaria, which have had their activities suspended or limited by governmental restrictive measures to limit the spread of the virus. The amount of grant each beneficiary may receive will be calculated by comparing its turnover (excluding VAT) during the affected period with the same period of the previous year (or the turnover for October 2020, for beneficiaries opened after 1 January 2020). The grant will amount to either 10 per cent or 20 per cent of that turnover, depending on the beneficiary's sector of activity, up to a maximum of 150 000 leva. The support will help the beneficiaries to cover part of their operating costs and support activities necessary to overcome the shortage of funds or lack of liquidity resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. NV/PP //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, January 20 (BTA)
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 544 New Cases in 24 Hours
January 20 (BTA) - There were 544 new COVID-19 cases out of 7,921 tests done in the 24 hours until Tuesday midnight, according to data posted on the national coronavirus portal on Wednesday morning. The test positivity rate is just under 6.87 per cent. This brings the total number of coronavirus cases in Bulgaria to 212,927. The active cases number 33,815. Some 3,223 patients have been hospitalized, with 318 in intensive care. There were 49 fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 8,614. A total of 6,243 people recovered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 170,498. A total of 2,588 people were vaccinated, bringing the total to 22,226. RY/DS /??/
• (DF) Prime Minster Hosts Discussion on Possible Partial Relaxation of Anti-COVID-19 Measures
January 19 (BTA) - The possibility to relax anti-COVID-19 measures in some sectors and businesses was discussed at a working meeting convened by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the government press service reported on Tuesday. The meeting was attended by members of the government and the National Coronavirus Task Force.
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, January 19 (BTA)
• (NW) Car Sales in Bulgaria Drop by Nearly 37% in 2020
January 19 (BTA) - Car sales in Bulgaria in 2020 have dropped by 36.8 per cent, according to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the worst crisis in history of the sector. All markets in Europe reported a double-digit decline in 2020, according to ACEA. In Spain the decline was 32.3 per cent, in Italy - 28 per cent, and in France - 25 per cent. In Germany, the decline amounted to 19 per cent. In December, sales of new cars in Bulgaria dropped by 40.3 per cent, according to the official website of ACEA. In Europe, sales of new cars in December decreased by 3.3 per cent compared to the same month last year, but there are wide differences in performance in various markets. Italy and Spain again have double-digit declines, while in Germany sales increased by 10 per cent, and in Spain the figure remained unchanged. German carmaker Volkswagen has reduced its market share by 3 per cent, while PSA Peugeot and Fiat Chrysler, which officially announced their merger on Monday, and Toyota have managed to improve their positions. NV/DT /DT/
• (DF) 570 New COVID-19 Cases, 82 Deaths Reported
January 19 (BTA) - The Bulgarian healthcare authorities confirmed 570 new COVID-19 cases in the country in 24 hours on Monday after 7,964 tests, according to information posted at http://coronavirus.bg. The positivity rate for the day was 7.16 per cent. Eighty-two people died of the disease on Monday.
• (DF) Bulgarian Foreign Minister Confers with Poland's Three Seas Initiative Coordinator
January 18 (BTA) - Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva conferred with Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister and national coordinator for the Three Seas Initiative, Pawel Jablonski, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry reported here on Monday. Bulgaria took over the Three Seas Initiative's coordination role from Estonia last October.
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, January 18 (BTA)
• (NW) December's Inflation in Bulgaria Stands at 0.5%
January 18 (BTA) - The inflation rate in Bulgaria in December, compared to November, was 0.5 per cent, the National Statistical Institute informed on Monday. The Y/Y inflation rate in December 2020 was 0.1 per cent. The average inflation rate for the period January - December 2020 compared to the same period of 2019 was 1.7 per cent. RI/MT /??/
• (DF) Second Stage of Vaccination Starts This Week in Plovdiv, Bourgas
January 18 (BTA) - The second stage of the vaccination campaign can begin this week in the cities of Plovdiv (in south-central Bulgaria) and Bourgas (on the Black Sea coast), said Chief Health Inspector Angel Kunchev after Monday's delivery of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines. There are 18,720 doses which is half of the quantity announced previously. Bulgaria is expecting 4,000 Moderna vaccines next week, according to Bogdan Kirilov, head of the Bulgarian Drug Agency. He added that so far a total of 19 side effects have been reported and described in the vaccine's summary of product characteristics, and all of them were expected. Another 35,000 vaccines by Pfizer are expected to arrive in the beginning of February, while today's lower quantity will be compensated for by a delivery in mid-February, Kirilov said. According to Kunchev, it is possible to start inoculating people on demand in March or April. Kunchev said that the lower quantity of vaccines in today's delivery was due to reconstruction of their production, aiming to satisfy the growing need of countries for more deliveries. He added that Bulgaria will be compensated for the smaller delivery in late February or early March. The second stage of vaccination can begin at homes for the elderly with the lowest incidence and at schools that have prepared lists of people wishing to be vaccinated. In Sofia, this may start in 7 to 10 days, as the number of medical staff in first stage of vaccination is much larger, and only half of the vaccine takers are provided for. Kunchev assured that there are enough vaccines for the second inoculation of people who have been administered the first dose. In his words, if there are enough vaccines, the second stage can be started in parallel in Sofia, too. Today's delivery will be used in parallel for vaccine takers in either stage of the process, but the second stage will only be launched in regions where the first one is complete, he explained. About 2,000 vaccines will be needed for the people servicing the mobile voting stations in the upcoming elections. Kunchev said that the pre-election campaign is bound by the rules, ordered by the Health Minister: social distancing, face masks and disinfection. RI/MT /??/
• (DF) Bulgaria Confirms 77 New Cases in Past 24 Hours
January 18 (BTA) - Over the past 24 hours there were 77 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases out of 1,194 tests, for a positivity rate of 6.44 per cent, the national coronavirus information portal informed on Monday morning. Hospitals are treating 3,485 people, of whom 341 are in intensive care. With 9 new fatalities, Bulgaria's death toll to the coronavirus stands at 8,483. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been a total of 211,813 confirmed cases in Bulgaria, of whom 46,608 are currently active. The number of recoveries rose by 396 since yesterday, reaching 156,722. Since the start of the vaccination campaign in Bulgaria, a total of 18,453 people have been inoculated, with 121 vaccines administered since yesterday. RI/MT /??/
• (DF) Students in Grades 7th and 12th Most Likely to Resume in-Person Schooling in February
January 17 (BTA) - Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said Sunday that if the COVID-19 infection rate continues to fall down, some of the older pupils will be allowed to return to school. Angelov, quoted by the government information service, specified that these will be probably 7th- and 12th-graders. These classes are key to moving forward to a higher level of education in Bulgaria. It is possible for fifth- and eighth-graders to resume in-person classes too, said the Minister. Younger children in Bulgaria, in grades 1 to 4, returned to schools after the Christmas break but the older pupils continued with online schooling. Angelov said that on Monday he will meet with Education Minister Krassimir Valchev and the teachers' trade union to discuss which classes to return to school and when. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was the first to mention Saturday of the possible resumption of in-person classes for pupils in grades 5 to 12 next month. Borissov was speaking to reporters as he visited Saturday several southern Bulgarian towns accompanied by Education Minister Krassimir Valchev. In the Prime Minister's words, if the pandemic situation improves, older pupils might be allowed to return to in-person schooling on January 31. Borissov added that Bulgaria has undertaken more liberal measures against the COVID-19 crisis compared to other countries, and these measures are yielding results. LN/DS,PP
• (DF) President Dismiss Party Complaints about Date of Elections
January 17 (BTA) - Talking to the press on the sidelines of a public event in Sofia Sunday, President Rumen Radev dismissed some party complaints about the date of the general elections he had set, April 4, and used the opportunity to reiterate his criticism of the government for mishandling the COVID-19 crisis. "Parties have no grounds to make pretensions to the date of the vote," said the President, recalling that these are regular elections. When he scheduled the national elections for April 4 last week, most parties said they were ready for elections on any date but the ruling GERB party pointed out that it falls on the Easter of the Catholic Church and the Armenian Church, and it might prevent people belonging to these churches from voting. The Catholic Church in Bulgaria declined to comment on the date of the elections. A spokesperson for the Episcopal Conference of Bulgaria told reporters Sunday that the Church and the state function on two separate planes and neither interferes in the affairs of the other. The President said that according to him the best date for elections was already in September, after people ran out of patience with the government in July and demanded its resignation. "The past months took the life of thousands of Bulgarians, because the government did not prepare the country for the second wave of the pandemic," said the head of State, adding that billions were siphoned off from the budget during these months. According to him, these losses could have been prevented if the elections had been held on time. "Now the question is not so much when, but how the elections will be held. The incumbent refuse to take the urgent steps to repair the election process, That's why we have to make sure that the law is observed," said the President. At the invitation of the Catholic Church in Bulgaria and in line with a longstanding tradition President Radev attended a holy liturgy at Sofia's St Joseph Cathedral and the ordination of an auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sofia and Plovdiv, who will be seated permanently in Sofia. LN/PP
• (DF) Foreign Ministry Begins Preparations For Elections Abroad Amid COVID Pandemic
January 17 (BTA) - The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that it has begun preparations for the organization of the general elections abroad. A working group, set up by Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, has to ensure the voting rights of as many Bulgarians as possible despite the epidemic. Bulgarians will be voting for a national parliament on April 4. Heads of Bulgarian diplomatic missions have received instructions to ask for permission from the host country to hold elections and open voting sections on the premises of Bulgarian embassies and consular services. The working group will have to draw up a draft budget for the organization of the elections abroad. It will have to factor in expenses for disinfection and personal protection of voters and members of election commissions, per diem expenses for seconded members of the section commissions considering the country specific rules for a PCR test or quarantine, as well as for providing supplies which will guarantee the strict implementations of health protocols, which will be introduced by the Health Ministry. Also, the Foreign Ministry will publish important information about the vote abroad under the heading Elections on its website. It will provide information about the specific terms of voting, in addition to the websites of the respective diplomatic missions and their social media accounts. Representatives of the Foreign Ministry held a meeting with the Central Election Commission to discuss all challenges to the holding of the vote abroad. Meeting with President Rumen Radev during consultations he held with a wide scope of officials and organizations before scheduling the elections, representatives of Bulgarian communities abroad called for introduction of mail-in voting to allow a large number of Bulgarians living and working abroad to vote for a national Parliament. The non-parliamentary opposition - and the President himself - want that too. The ruling majority in Parliament, however, believes there is not enough time to roll out mail-in voting as it will require a major change in the election legislation. LN/PP
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 233 New Cases, 5% Test Positivity Rate on Sunday
January 17 (BTA) - A total of 233 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the 24 hours until Saturday midnight, 319 fewer from a day earlier, according to data posted on the national coronavirus portal. A total of 4,628 tests were done. This makes a test positivity rate of 5 per cent. The new cases bring the total number of COVID-19 infections to 211,736 since the start of the pandemic. In the past 24 hours there were 17 fatalities, bringing the total death toll to 8,474. Some 3,485 patients have been hospitalized, with 340 in intensive care, With 294 recoveries in the past 24 hours, the total is 156,326. LN/PP
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, January 17 (BTA)
• (DF) Foreign Ministry Wants to Limit Issue of Passports with Privileges
January 16 (BTA) - The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has initiated revisions to the Bulgarian Personal Documents Act limiting the issue of diplomatic and official passports that give their owners rights to easier and visa-free travel abroad. The proposed changes have been published on the public consultations portal, www.strategy.bg, the Foreign Ministry said. The proposed amendments are aimed at bringing to a minimum the opportunities for misuse, because the current regulatory framework practically allows each Bulgarian national of full active legal capacity to obtain an official passport by registering a non-profit legal entity - an association, a federation or a branch organization - and being elected in its leadership, the Foreign Ministry said. Under the proposed changes, entitled to official passports are only the members of the leaderships of: licenced sports federations on the register under the Physical Education and Sport Act; nationally representative organizations of employees; and nationally representative organizations of employers. The revisions come following the Foreign Minister's order to carry out a check and a review of the statutory and interdepartmental instruments regulating the order of issuing diplomatic and official passports. The check, which was conducted in 2020, resulted in the invalidation of five diplomatic passports. It established that there are 2,959 valid official passports, the biggest share of which (2,121) belong to officials at the Foreign Ministry and their family members, followed by the Defence Ministry (204), Air Detachment 28 (75), the Interior Ministry (74), the Economy Ministry (53), and the President's administration (33). Official passports have also been issued to members of sports, scientific and trade organizations, as well as to representatives of the Judiciary. LN/DS
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 552 New Cases and Fewer Patients in Hospitals on Saturday
January 16 (BTA) - There were 551 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 8,850 tests done in the 24 hours until Friday night, according to the national coronavirus information platform. This makes a test positivity rate of 6 per cent. The total number of cases since the start of the padmemic is now 211,503, including 47,016 active cases. The new daily figures show 61 deaths, bringing the death toll of the pandemic in Bulgaria to 8,457. A total of 3,500 patients are in hospital - which is fewer than the day before - including 343 in intensive care. The new recoveries stand at 5,660, bringing the total number to 156,030. Bulgaria has so far done 1,263,825 tests. The new metrics has 452 new vaccinations, bringing the total number to 18,126. LN/
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, January 16 (BTA)
• (DF) Government Finances River Iskur Clean-up with Lv 220,000
January 15 (BTA) - Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the clean-up of the River Iskur was to start immediately on financing approved at an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Friday afternoon, the government information service said. Heavy rains in the last few days swelled the river which deposited tonnes of trash at the dam of the Svoge hydroelectric power plant. Sofia Region's Governor Ilian Todorov said the debris covered between one and 1.2 hectares. The cabinet made available 220,000 leva for the clearing of the river bed. Borissov said: "The mayor and the regional governor must find a way to start the clean-up posthaste, even tomorrow if possible. We do care about the environment." RI/DD //
• (DF) Part of Bulgaria's Anti-Epidemic Measures to Change as of January 16
January 15 (BTA) - Part of the anti-epidemic measures in Bulgaria will change as of January 16, the Health Ministry said in a press release Friday. The changes concern schools, higher education establishments, and planned surgical activity. As of Saturday, the following in-person activities in school education will resume: exams for transferring a pupil; exams for determining the term's grade of a pupil who has been absent from over 25 per cent of the classes in a given subject or of a pupil undergoing individual or distance education; exams for determining the year's grade of a pupil studying individually or part-time; state exams for acquiring a professional qualification degree in theory and practice; individual activities, including written or practical exams for a current grade; individual practical classes at an enterprise or a school; regional and municipal rounds of olympiads and competitions that cannot be held online. All the above-mentioned activities must be held individually, if possible, and in strict compliance with the anti-epidemic measures. It is compulsory to wear a protective face mask and observe a physical distance of at least 1.5 m. Persons with acute respiratory disease symptoms are not allowed to attend. As of January 16, higher education establishments are allowed to conduct: in-person practical classes and practical exams for students, students pursuing a specialization, and PhD students; semester exams that include a practical part and cannot be held online; state exams and thesis defences. When held at the higher education establishment, these activities must be organized in full compliance with the anti-epidemic measures. First aid classes for drivers under Ordinance No. 24 can also resume on Saturday. Also to resume are planned admissions and planned surgical activity in medical-treatment facilities and in complex oncology centres. NV/DS /DT/
• (DF) Environment and Water Minister Dimitrov: There Are Currently 19 Environmental Proceedings Pending against Bulgaria
January 15 (BTA) - There are currently 19 pending legal proceedings against Bulgaria for violating EU environmental legislation, said the Minister of Environment and Water (MOEW) Emil Dimitrov during question time in Parliament on Friday. A total of 102 criminal proceedings have been initiated against Bulgaria since it joined the EU in 2007. Of these, 83 were closed due to the implementation of the country's commitments and elimination of violations. Of the 19 pending procedures, 11 are in the form of a letter of formal notice (first stage of the pre-trial phase). Six of these procedures are for non-transposition of EU directives, and one of them has already been reported to the EU as completed and the procedure is expected to be closed, the Minister said. He added that three procedures are for incomplete transposition of directives, and the MOEW has taken the necessary actions. Two of the procedures are related to non-fulfillment of obligations arising from EU law, which do not require changes in the legislation, and on which Bulgaria is in constant dialogue with the EC, Dimitrov said. Three procedures are at the "reasoned opinion" stage: two are related to the application of EU biodiversity law, and the third is for the construction of waste water treatment plants for settlements with more than 10,000 population. There are two procedures in the judicial phase, in the field of ambient air quality and marine policy. The proceedings before the Court of Justice of the EU are still pending and there is no ruling at the moment. Rulings have been issued in respect of two criminal proceedings: one concerning a protected area at Cape Kaliakra and one about the reclamation of old landfills. Bulgaria is in constant contact with the EC and periodically reports on progress in the implementation of its commitments, said the Minister. In one of the criminal proceedings, which is related to exceeding the values of fine particulate matter, a second case is to be filed before the EU court with a request for imposition of financial sanctions, the Minister specified. He also pointed out that the MOEW is making all necessary efforts and maintains a constant dialogue with the EC to find workable solutions and eliminate the violations. Dimitrov also said that so far 308 projects have been contracted under the Operational Programme Environment 2014-2020, of which 137 in 2020. The value of the grant aid for these projects amounted to 3.8 billion leva. In 2020, the contracted funding amounted to 616 million leva. The verified expenditures for European and national co-financing were 1.1 billion leva. The expenditures certified by the EC so far also amount to 1.1 billion leva. Efforts are being made to overcome the negative consequences of the later start of projects in the water sector, as well as the difficulties in implementing projects in other sectors, i.e. "Waste", "Biodiversity", "Landslides", "Floods", said the Minister. According to him, the pandemic situation has led to additional delays due to the extension by at least two months of deadlines for submitting bids and announcing public procurement. The Minister noted that the announced procedures for providing grant aid under the Environment OP for the programming period 2014-2020 are 59 and amount to a total of 4.3 billion leva. RY/DT //
• (PE) Press - Review
Sofia, January 15 (BTA)
• (NW) BCCI Survey: 95% of Foreign Companies Ready to Expand Their Investments in Bulgaria
January 15 (BTA) - A survey by the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and partnering business organizations shows that 95 per cent of the foreign companies that have invested in Bulgaria are ready to expand their investments. This was announced by head of the BCCI Tsvetan Simeonov during a webinar on doing business in Bulgaria, initiated by the World Trade Center Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, BCCI informed on Friday. Simeonov advised the Dutch companies preparing to start business relations with Bulgarian partners to seek assistance from the BCCI, the Registry Agency and the embassies of the two countries; also to include arbitration provisions in their contracts and bear in mind that Bulgarians are very tolerant in many respects, and Bulgarian firms are open to business. He also focused on the positive characteristics of Bulgaria's economic environment and underscored that the intolerance for corruption in Bulgaria is growing, and the related criticism from the EU is decreasing. Dutch Ambassador to Bulgaria Bea ten Tusscher pointed out that the investments of many Dutch companies in Bulgaria have proven successful, especially in the field of agriculture. She also presented to the forum additional information about Dutch companies planning to invest in Bulgarian agriculture. RY/MT /??/
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 535 New Cases in 24 Hours
January 15 (BTA) - There were 535 new COVID-19 cases out of 7,439 tests in the 24 hours until Friday midnight, according to data posted on the national coronavirus portal. The test positivity rate is 7.19 per cent. The active cases number 52,185. Some 3.631 patients have been hospitalized, with 343 in intensive care There were 47 fatalities in the past 24 hours. Recoveries totalled 6,728 and 648 people were vaccinated. RY/PP //
• (DF) President Decrees April 4 as Parliamentary Election Date
January 14 (BTA) - President Rumen Radev has decreed April 4, 2021 as the date for the next parliamentary elections. In a televised address to the nation on Thursday, Radev noted that April 4 is a week after the earliest possible date. The last week before the elections should be utilized as fully as possible, he urged. Radev expects that in the months left until the ballot, all institutions, including the Parliament leadership, "will work in a way that guarantees the health and the voting right of every Bulgarian citizen and leaves no doubt that every vote will be properly counted." The President sees a need to amend the Election Code. He noted that the changes should not be limited to guaranteeing the voting right of COVID-quarantined persons. "The lawmakers should also consider other proposals which are not less important than that, such as postal voting for Bulgarians abroad, video surveillance in voting sections, online streaming of the vote count and fair access to the media during the election campaign," he said. As soon as Radev announced the election date, the ruling GERB party urged him to stop sabotaging the election process by inspiring distrust in it. "The President's transformation from a mouthpiece for the parliamentary opposition into a mouthpiece for the extraparliamentary opposition should not be allowed to undermine public confidence in the elections," Toma Bikov MP commented during a briefing. Although GERB is basically OK about the election date, the party worries that it will coincide with the Catholic and Armenian Easter. The incumbents urged the President to explain why he gave up on March 28, which he named earlier as voting day. Bikov stressed that GERB will not table any of the changes in the Election Code that the President proposed. Georg Georgiev, head of GERB's youth organization, said that if the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) decide to reconsider their position against fundamental changes in the election legislation, they can table Radev's proposals, but GERB will not support these. In his words, such an approach would destroy the trust in the election process and would serve unclear interests. "We have gotten used to him [President Radev] drawing dividing lines," Georgiev said. According to the incumbents, the President is trying to create chaos, to instill unwillingness to vote in people. BSP deputy leader Atanas Zafirov commented for BTA: "BSP is always ready for elections. What is more, BSP is ready to win these elections." According to Zafirov, it is possible to make reasonable changes to the Election Code before the upcoming ballot, provided that things are organized well. MRF leader Mustafa Karadayi commented in a Facebook post that the biggest challenge to the elections is working amid the COVID-19 pandemic. "We have a lot of work and each one of us knows what to do," the post reads. The power-sharing VMRO party said in a press release that it accepts the date April 4, but does not accept the attempts at radical changes in the election legislation. "The idea for postal voting creates a huge threat of distorting the election results under the pressure of one foreign country: Turkey," the party argues. "That would give neo-Ottoman [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, who has on numerous occasions expressed his cordial claims over parts of Bulgaria, to organize the sending of votes even by Bulgarian citizens who have passed away decades ago," the VMRO said. A foreign country's interference in elections in Bulgaria is a huge threat to national security, the party believes. The VMRO expresses the hope that the President's proposal for postal voting is not a deliberate plan for creating an MRF-BSP majority in the next parliament. The VMRO confirms its position on principle against last-minute changes in the Election Code. RY/VE, DS
• (DF) CEC to Begin Registering Parties for February 28 Local By-elections
January 14 (BTA) - As of January 18, the Central Election Commission (CEC) will begin accepting documents for the registration of parties and coalitions for participation in the local by-elections on February 28, 2021, the CEC said Thursday. To be elected are mayors of two municipalities and of ten mayoralties. The deadline for submitting applications is 5 pm local time on January 23.
• (DF) Bulgaria Ranks Ninth in COVID-19 Mortality in the EU, Planned Operations Said to Resume
January 14 (BTA) - Bulgaria ranks ninth in COVID-19 mortality in the EU and 27th in morbidity, Chief State Health Inspector Angel Kunchev told a briefing at the Council of Ministers on Thursday. The briefing was given after a working meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, attended by Health Minister Kostadin Angelov, representatives of the National Coronavirus Taskforce and the National Vaccination Headquarters.
• (DF) 535 New COVID-19 Cases Confirmed In 24 Hours
January 14 (BTA) - A total of 535 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Bulgaria over the past 24 hours, out of 7,570 tests performed, according to data on the national coronavirus portal on Saturday morning. The test positivity rate currently stands at around 7.07 per cent.
• (DF) Election Consultations: President Meets Three More Non-Parliamentary Forces, They Call For Mail-in Voting
January 13 (BTA) - The non-parliamentary Movement 21 political formation want ensuring mail-in voting for the next parliamentary elections. This transpired as the formation's leader, Tatyana Doncheva, met with President Rumen Radev as part of the consultations he is holding before scheduling the upcoming general elections.
• (DF) Moderna's Vaccine Can Go into Use on Thursday
January 13 (BTA) - Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine can go into use in Bulgaria on Thursday, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov told journalists on Wednesday after the arrival of the first shipment of the product.
• (DF) Parliament Back in Session after Year-end Recess
January 13 (BTA) - The Bulgarian Parliament Wednesday is back in session after its year-end recess. In an address to MPs, National Assembly Chair Tsveta Karayancheva urged parties to avoid suggestions about manipulation of the upcoming general elections, as this is hurting democracy. The political groups read their traditional declarations to set out their priorities during the new session, and th? upcoming elections featured prominently in all declarations. This is the last session of this 44th legislature. A new parlament will be elected in elections which are expected to take place between Mach 28 and May 28. MPs from the opposition BSP for Bulgaria did not register for the start of the sitting. "I call on you to avoid suggestions about a risk of manipulation of the election results. The biggest loser will be Bulgarian democracy," said Parliament Chair Tsveta Karayancheva in her opening remarks. She expressed the same message on Thursday when representatives of the ruling party GERB met with President Rumen Radev within the framework of his election consultations. Karayancheva recalled that as early as in September 2020 she sent letters to EU insitutions to invite observer missions at Bulgaria's general elections. In their declaration in Parliament, GERB reiterated their call to the President to decide as quickly as possible on the date of the elections. GERB floor leader Daniela Daritkova said: "The last session begins in the situation of a health crisis, caused by the coronavirus. It is this and not protests and attacks by the parliamentary and extraparliamentary opposition or attacks by various oligarchs that is the big challenge before the ruling majority." In her words, the health crisis and the mitigation of its effects on the economy are the only possible priority for the government and the ruling coalition. She slammed the opposition for aiming "to throw the state and society into chaos and anarchy" and thanked fellow MPs who ensured the normal work of Parliament by attending sittings. She also recalled the President's appeal at the start of the previous session of this Parliament for the legislature to be disbanded and thus leave the country "without Parliament and regular government at the peak of the health crisis". Time has proven "the groundlessness of his calls then", and the incumbent took on the political negatives of not coming down in order to be able to taking important decisions at a difficult time for the country and avoid a political crisis on top of the health and economic crisis, said Daritkova. According to her, during last summer and autumn's protests GERB heeded to the voice of protesters but "at the same time saw the inability of their political leadership for formulate significant goals". Now GERB are ready to see the assessment of Bulgarian voters, Daritkova said. She underscored two things among the accomplishments of her party: a double increase of teachers' salaries, which put education among the principal long-term priorities of the nation, and the consensus on the conditions for the start of negotiations between the EU and the Republic of North Macedonia, With regards to the latter she thanked GERB's opponents for the support. The GERB floor leader called for the preservation of the few fields of politicall consensus after the elections and said that despite the political differences GERB "will continue to view the opposition not as enemies but as opponents and representatives of large groups of Bulgarian society." As she presented her group's declaration, Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova said they demand a report by the government about the state it is leaving Bulgaria in: "not one for the purposes of television, but a real report". "During these four years, you continued to build two parallel Bulgarias: one televized and one real," said Ninova. "We know that after the elections there will be a change," the socialist leader said, adding that BSP will work for fair and transparent elections. Ninova said there are two key tasks during the remaining months in Parliament's life: demand a report on how much money has been spent during the ongoing crisis and how many people helped, and see the adoption of National Recovery and Resilience Plan. She highlighted the Socialists' proposals for the plan. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) said that these elections will decide how fast the country will cope with the crisis which according to them "is created by GERB via the GERB virus which destroys democracy". MRF leader Mustafa Karadayi said that the upcoming elections are probably the most important since 1989 when Bulgaria began its transition to democracy and market economy. He blasted the ruling GERB party for their government calling it "a contraductory and inconsisent period in our latest history - a government without reforms and direction". Also, Karadayi spoke about "a democracy in decline", "increasing tension", "growing division", "outrageous spending" and a budget serving election purposes. The changes voted to the Election Code have created conditons for the election process to be hampered and for political instability after the vote, which is typical of GERB's government, said Karadayi. According to him, while the existing problems are not solved, more problems are created. The crisis in its health, social, economic, institutional and political aspects requires tough measures and actions, he said. To that the MRF leader added the growing distrust in the election process, which calls for responsible attitude for the sake of peace and democracy. The MRF called on all politicians and the civil society to get involved for the sake of Bulgaria's future. Similarly to BSP for Bulgaria, the MRF are sure that the elections will put an end to GERB's government. The MRF will responsibly present its pogramme for accelerated economic development, will work for clean air, water and energy, high technology, and will participate actively to implement EU's Green Deal ackage, it transpired from Karadayi's statement. The MRF leader urged participants in the election not to forget that dialogue after the elections depends on the rhetoric during the election campaign. United Patriots said that they won't allow a change in the election rules on the eve of the parliamentary elections. United Patrios co-floor leader Iskren Vesselino said that the coalition is categorically opposed to the idea about postal voting and the scrapping of the limit of 35 voting sections in non -EU countries. "Today, we won't allow for someone to make a present of 10-15 MPs to the new old favourites of the Turkish sultan: the MRF," said Vesselinov. Among the priorities of the last parliamentary session he outlined three aspects of the Penal Code: criminalizing preaching of radical Islam, broadening the scope of justified self-defence, reformulating the definition of minor theft, as well as the adoption of the personal bankruptcy act. Volya spoke about the past parliamentary session and concrete legislation proposals (free meddicines for children and pensioners and a chain of state owned petrol stations), and about the date of the elections, which according to Volya deputy floor leader Krastina Taskova doesn?t matter because her party always works for the people. Taskova also said: "Today you once again speak about unity but what you are doing is just the opposite. We'll once again say to you: before we unite for the sake of a better future for the people and the state, we should get divided." She added that this division should be made according to one principle: capability, knowledge and a desire to make Bulgarians richer and happier. New Left Political Project Independent MP Krassimir Yankov announced the establishment of a new left political project - the Bulgarian Democratic Line party. He made a statement from the parliamentary rostrum on behalf of a group of MPs who call themselves a Group of the Progressive Socialsts, and who are non-aligned after leaving the BSP for Bulgaria group over disagremeent with the leadership. Yankov said that parties follow the interests of their elites and not the agenda of the people and that the parliamentary quorum has become an instrument for political pressure. "We received suppot from an increasing number of people who want change. That's why we are createing a new left political project - the Bulgarian Progressive Line party," he said. LN/PP //
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 750 New Cases and Two-month Low in Hospitalizations
January 13 (BTA) - There were 750 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 9,647 tests done in the 24 hours to midnight on Tuesday, according to data posted on the national coronavirus portal. It makes a test positivity rate of 7.7 per cent. For the first time since November the number of people in hospital with coronavirus infection has fallen below 4,000. Currently 3,945 people are in hospital, with 367 in intensive care units. There were 47 deaths and 2,706 recoveries. Some 1,619 people were vaccinated, and a total of 15,780 people have received the first dose of the vaccine since the start of the vaccination campaign. LN/PP
• (DF) Election Consultations
January 12 (BTA) - Socialist Party Ready for Elections at All Times During yet another round of pre-election consultations with President Rumen Radev on Tuesday, Bulgarian Socialist Party Chair Kornelia Ninova said her party is ready for elections anytime and will reckon with any decision the President may make within his constitutional powers concerning the date for the upcoming parliamentary ballot. On Tuesday, Radev is holding consultations with the parliamentary parties. In the last few days, he met with representatives of the health authorities, the election administration, extraparliamentary political parties and organizations of expatriate Bulgarians. Ninova said: "We share the same objective: protecting the health of the people while conducting the elections in a way that ensures a maximum voter turnout, because it will give greater legitimacy and representativeness to the parties and the elected institutions." Another goal of BSP is to make sure that the forthcoming elections "change the deficient governance model which we are firmly and clearly opposed to." The Socialists want the elections to be transparent and fair and to produce a result which reflects the actual will of Bulgarian citizens. Ninova views machine voting as one of the guarantees that the ballot is fair. She insisted that the health protocol should be announced promptly. She noted that BSP calls for setting an active registration rule to clear voters' lists of "ghost voters." The party favours the establishment of a multi-member constituency for expatriates. Ninova believes that postal voting is feasible, provided that there is an active registration rule, as BSP suggested some time ago - otherwise, postal voting will be meaningless. The Socialists disapprove of voting on two days instead of one, which has been suggested as a way to avoid long queues and gatherings of people in large numbers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The party proposes increasing the remuneration of the members of district election commissions. Parties are getting late in presenting their campaign programmes, the Socialists say. BSP is the only party which has unveiled its programme so far, Ninova said, urging political entities to waste no time in putting forward their ideas about Bulgaria's development so that they can start talks in substance. Dispelling "suggestions of hostility" between Radev and BSP BSP and President Radev denied that there is a conflict between them. "I would like to dispel a suggestion in the public domain. We are not at war with the President and the presidential institution," Ninova said at the start of Tuesday's consultations. Radev, who was elected president with BSP's support, said that he and Vice President Iliana Iotova, a former high-ranking member of the party, have done nothing to indicate the existence of a rift between them and BSP. The President said: "Anywhere we go, we get a warm welcome and we have open dialogue and communication with all Bulgarian Socialists. We have always supported BSP's efforts to build up a strong opposition, the kind that Bulgaria needs, because democracy weakens without a strong opposition." MRF Sees Invalid Ballots, Subjective Factor in Ballot Counting The large number of invalid ballots and the subjective factor in ballot counting are among the problems which the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) sees with the election process. Machine voting should solve these and other election problems and increase trust in the election results, MRF leader Mustafa Karadayi said at a meeting with President Rumen Radev on Tuesday. In this round of consultations, Radev met with the parliamentary parties. Earlier in January he met with representatives of the health authorities, the election administration, the extraparliamentary political parties and organizations of expatriate Bulgarians. Also, the MRF highlighted the problem with the high number of incorrectly filled and corrected section tally sheets which further erode trust in the election results. According to the MRF, the combination of both paper and machine voting and a manual count of machine votes is a condition for more incorrect tally sheets and mistrust in the election results. Karadayi highlighted the necessity for a different and much more responsible approach to the whole election process by all participants and observers in the elections. President Radev said that he and the MRF shared a common view about the aims of machine voting, formulated by the MRF. He said there are speculations by citing countries such as the Netherlands where machine voting was rejected. However, there with a voter turnout of 83 per cent over two consecutive elections, the percentage of invalid ballots is below 0.5 per cent, whereas in Bulgaria during the last general elections with 53 per cent voter turnout, the percentage of invalid ballots was 5 per cent, said Radev. He added: "In order for us to denounce machine voting, let's reach first this percentage of invalid votes." He deplored the fact that the process for the introduction of machine voting started in October and a solution to the problem is sought in critical times. Radev recalled that he had vetoed the combined counting and tallying of machine and paper ballots, but this was overturned by Parliament. He suggested a random control count at the end of election day by running the results of paper slips against the memory of the voting machine at least during these elections so that there is enough trust in machines at the next elections. According to Radev, this would be a disciplining measure for anyone who tries to interfere with the voting machines. Volya Tells President Talks Come Too Late, President Blasts Them for Groundless Attacks and Unprincipled Positions Meeting President Rumen Radev the parliamentary Volya party told him that the consultations come too late and are meaningless at this point of time. In response, he blasted them for their groundless attacks and unprincipled positions in support of some legal initiatives of the ruling majority, including a short-lived new Constitution draft. On Tuesday Radev held consultations with the parliamentary parties. In the last few days he met with representatives of the health authorities, the election administration, the extraparliamentary political parties and organizations of expatriate Bulgarians. Volya leader Vesselin Mareshki said that "today's exercise with these consultations which we are doing on the eve of the elections, and not earlier, is in our opinion totally pointless, aimless, and an expression of alarm, probably also of incompetence and fear, to take responsibility for setting a voting date, which is fully within your remit; earlier consultations should have heard all opinions". The President told Volya that the consultations are fully within the deadline laid down in the Constitution, even a bit ahead of time, because he wanted "to give a chance to all entities in charge to set to work and work purposefully and responsibly, whereas he did not see such an attitude now". Responding sharply to Volya's accusations, Radev said that the delay is a delay of the legislators. The President asked Volya to answer that "if you genuinely steer things, when will there be a contract on machine voting, a methodology, and a clear health protocol" for the elections. According to Mareshki, provided all health measures are strictly complied with, the elections should be conducted at the earliest possible date, March 28. The Volya leader also spoke on the issue of video surveillance of vote counting, and about mail voting, reminding of his party's position on the need for electronic distance voting. Ataka Party Expects President to Serve as Guarantor for Fair Elections The parliamentary Ataka party urged an audit at the Information Services Company, which will process the voting data, and called for clearing voters' lists of "ghost voters." Ataka leader Volen Siderov argued that, compared to these questions, the date of the elections is a minor detail. Ataka expects President Radev to serve as a guarantor for the fairness of the elections. Siderov put the number of ghost voters at around 600,000. He cited National Statistical Institute (NSI) data which shows that there are 5,636,267 Bulgarians over 20 years of age, whereas Central Election Commission records indicate that their number is 6,221,729, which is 585,482 more. "What do they do about the difference?" he asked. Ataka finds it important to conduct an audit at the Information Services Company and enlarge its board to include representatives of opposition parties and civic movements so as to ensure oversight of its operation. "Oversight is impossible at present, no one knows what is going on in the company, how the staff is recruited and what kind of computer software is used," Siderov said. President Radev recalled that the issue of clearing ghost voters off voters' lists was raised a year ago at a meeting in the Presidency involving the leadership of the Directorate General for Civil Registration and Administrative Services (DGCR) and NSI. Back then, DGCR said that they could start such a process, but it would be difficult, and they would do it only if the executive branch of government tasks them with it, Radev said. "The executive is supposed to be controlled by Parliament," he added. The President pointed to a legislative amendment which practically granted the Information Services Company a monopoly over the processing of election data for an indefinite period of time. He vetoed the provision, but the National Assembly overrode his veto. As a result, the company became "a black box," he added. LN/ZH/VE/PP/VE/RI //
• (NW) Bulgarian Development Bank Approves Loans Worth Over Lv 268 Mln under Two Government Anti-Crisis Programmes
Sofia, January 12 (BTA) - The Bulgarian Development Bank (BDB) has approved loans worth over 268 million leva under two government anti-crisis programmes that the BDB is managing, the bank said Tuesday. The resources have supported 26,221 natural persons and given a funding op...
• (DF) Situation Returns to Normal, Authorities Ready to Respond to Severe Weather
January 12 (BTA) - The situation in the country caused by the severe weather is getting back to normal and is being monitored constantly, the levels of dams are monitored and water is released if necessary. All competent authorities are cooperating and are prepared to respond, including to alerts by the members of the public. This transpired at a working meeting on Tuesday called by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in relation to harsh weather conditions in some parts of the country, the government information service said. During the meeting Environment Minister Emil Dimitrov said that all measures are taken to monitor the level of dams. Dimitrov said that neighbouring Greece and Turkey have been warned in order to take preventive measures. The country's electricity transmission system is under control and where there were outages, power supply has been restored, said Energy Minister Temenouzhka Petkova. She said that emergency teams have been reinforced and prepared to respond to calls. Economy Minister Lachezar Borisov said that currently no dams pose a risk to people. Interior Minister Hristo Terziyski briefed the Prime Minister that in the past 24 hours the situation was the worst in Smolyan Region, where a house collapsed because of a landslide. The police and the fire service evacuated two adults and two children. No casualties were reported. Later on Tuesday the press secretariat of President Rumen Radev said that he had a phone call on the night to January 12 with the Director of the Directorate General for Fire Safety and Civil Protection, Nikolai Nikolov, in connection with the situation in the country after floodings in several locations. Nikolov said that all necessary measures have been undertaken and that at the moment no threats exist for people's health and lives. * * * The Social Assistance Agency started receiving requests for 375 leva in one-off financial aid to households affected by heavy rain and flooding. Employees of local-level social assistance directorates will join the damage evaluation commissions formed by municipal authorities. Eligible aid beneficiaries must be owners of legally built "only" dwellings or persons legally entitled to occupy such dwellings. PP/ZH/VE //
• (NW) Twice as Many Roma Children Graduate from School Compared to 2011 - Survey
January 12 (BTA) - Twice as many Roma children in Bulgaria graduate from school compared to 2011, shows a nationally representative survey on the Roma community's education and professional realization in the last ten years, commissioned to Global Metrics by the Trust for Social Achievement (TSA) nongovernmental organization. The study was presented Tuesday at a TSA's webinar on education and professional realization in the Roma community, the NGO said.
• (NW) Finance Minister Expects Bulgaria to Join Eurozone in 2024
January 12 (BTA) - "We expect Bulgaria to join the eurozone in 2024. The main tasks for the Bulgarian government on the road to achieving this goal are related to the implementation of commitments under the road map after the entry of the Bulgarian lev into ERM II in July 2020," said Tuesday Finance Minster Kiril Ananiev during an annual Central and Eastern European Forum, organized by Euromoney. For the first time in its 26-year history the forum is held online. The focus is on the financial and economic challenges to the countries in the region. Participating are representatives of the European Commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, investment intermediaries, banks, and the finance ministers of Poland and the Republic of North Macedonia. Minister Ananiev said that a national plan for the introduction of the euro is being drawn up to set out the steps which the Bulgarian authorities and business should take in order to introduce successfully the single European currency. He said that the fulfillment of the nominal convergence criteria (Maastricht criteria) and taking steps to address the imbalances, established in the convergence reports of the European Central Bank and the European Commission in 2020, are too an important aspect of the preparations for the euro. "We are working intensively to comply with the time frame and the minimum required stay in ERM II of two years. Currently there are no serious risks of non-implementation of Bulgaria's commitments," he said. Ananiev said: "I would like to underscore that the COVID-19 pandemic is a very serious shock for the world and the European economy, including the Bulgarian economy, with very heavy social and economic effects but I believe that it won?t be a factor in extending Bulgaria's stay in ERM II." Bulgaria will maintain fiscal sustainability in the mid- and long-term in order to continue to be an international partner and a country which for over 20 years has observed the principles of disciplined and sensible management of public finances, said the Bulgarian Finance Minister. NV/PP //
• (DF) Election Consultations: GERB Ready to Amend Election Code to Enable COVID Patients to Vote, President Urges them to Consider Wider Options
January 12 (BTA) - At a Tuesday meeting which is part of the President consultations before setting a date for the parliamentary elections this spring, the ruling GERB party said they are ready to amend the Election Code to enable quarantined and hospitalized COVID patients to vote but are not going to make other changes in the election legislation. President Rumen Radev urged them to consider wider options, including mail-in voting, which the ruling party considers "an exotic idea". On Tuesday Radev is holding consultations with the parliamentary parties. In the last few days he met with representatives of the health authorities, the election administration, the extraparliamentary political parties and organizations of expatriate Bulgarians. At the start of the meeting, the President noted that the consultations aim to reach a joint decision, a consensus among the institutions, the political parties, the whole society and Bulgarians abroad so as to guarantee their health, every Bulgarian's right to vote, fair and transparent elections, and above all to raise confidence in the upcoming elections. Radev stressed that the presence of representatives of the ruling party at the meeting was extremely important for boosting trust in the elections with clear positions and a quest for working solutions. He added that the legitimacy of the next parliament hinges on this trust and on voter turnout. GERB has drafted legislation on voting during state of emergency GERB Floor Leader Daniela Daritkova said they have drafted legislation concerning the Act on the Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency, which was declared on March 13, 2020. It would allow all quarantined patients to vote in mobile voting sections, while hospitalized patients would have access to ballot boxes with the help of the attending health workers by a decision of the Central Election Commission (CEC). "This bill allows CEC to take all the steps needed to guarantee the safe conduct of the elections for the rest of the people involved in the process," said Daritkova. "Exotic ideas" Daritkova was adamant that this is GERB's only intention for a legislative revision, which they believe will address most specifically the expectations to guarantee the public's health during the elections. "We have no intention to further amend the Election Code in line with some of the exotic suggestions made to the President," she said. The President's comments made it clear that Daritkova was referring to a proposal by the extraparliamentary right-wing Democratic Bulgaria coalition for an Election Code amendment introducing postal voting. Radev urged that the rights of two million Bulgarians abroad should also be taken into account. "The proposal for mail-in voting should not be dismissed, you call this exotic ideas but it is a matter of political responsibility to guarantee each Bulgarian's constitutional right to vote wherever they are," said Radev, who called for considering wider options where constitutional rights are concerned. Radev stressed that no proposal addresses how the Bulgarians who are quarantined abroad will vote, and urged that not a single option be dismissed. There is enough time and both the executive and CEC have proved they can act and make quick decisions. The President also commented that the health-related measures may be in conflict with the transparency of the elections. The President and the Vice President also raised issues including video monitoring, machine voting and the active registration of quarantined people. In a Facebook post, Iskren Vesselinov, VMRO party deputy leader and co-floor leader of the power-sharing United Patriots, wrote that they "will not allow" postal voting. Behind the facade of protecting the rights of "our fellow country people", he sees a new attempt to attack the Election Code after the United Patriots managed in 2015 to limit the number of voting sections in Turkey and thus curb Erdogan's influence on Bulgarian politics. The nationalist United Patriots coalition refused to participate in the President's consultations. GERB: Attempts to erode trust in the election process Parliament Chair Tsveta Karayancheva warned Radev about the danger of attempts to cast doubts about the results of elections before they are held, and blamed him for adding to the erosion of trust in the election process. She said that in recent months the public was being made to believe that the elections will be manipulated, the process will be compromised and the vote will be rigged. This leads to distrust in the election process, erodes the reputation of the institutions and reduces voter turnout. Karayancheva said: "Regrettably, Mr President, you have joined this narrative and in the last few months we are witnessing a concerted effort to undermine the Bulgarians' trust in the election process." Karayancheva also said that in the last few days Radev allowed "political figures which will not have sociologically significant - or any - representation in Parliament" to become the mouthpiece of claims that the upcoming elections can be declared manipulated in advance. "This is very dangerous because people who have not participated in elections and are not familiar with the election process are allowed to make insinuations," she said. The Parliament leader was apparently referring to the President's meeting with extraparliamentary parties over the weekend. Karayancheva added that "elections in Bulgaria are not organized by GERB but by interacting institutions: the Central Election Commission (CEC), the Council of Ministers, local government, the parties, NGOs, the Bulgarian citizens who are members of the section election commissions, the people who go to the polls". This mechanism must be upheld. Deputy PM Tomislav Donchev: A date should be set for the elections the soonest possible "I cannot speak on behalf of CEC but I am familiar with the commitments of the various state authorities. The sooner you set a firm date for the elections, the better they will be organized," Donchev told the President. "I suppose you are aware that there are actions which start when the date is known," said Donchev. Radev replied that he would heed this call and would set a date even before the deadline enshrined in the Constitution. The Constitution allows the President to set any date for elections in the two months beginning March 28. He has said on a number of occasions that the first possible date was also his first choice but did not rule out a later date in order to ensure fair and safe elections. The decree setting a date for the elections must be issued two months before Election Day. The President called the meeting constructive and an important step towards boosting public confidence in the elections. LN/DD
• (DF) Election Consultations: GERB Criticize Radev's Rhetoric for Eroding Trust in Parliamentary Elections, President Satisfied with Meeting
January 12 (BTA) - At a meeting which is part of the President's consultations before setting a date for the parliamentary elections this spring, the ruling GERB party blamed President Rumen Radev for adding to the erosion of trust in the election process. The President called the meeting constructive and an important step towards boosting public confidence in the elections.
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 620 New Cases, Test Positivity Rate at 8%
January 12 (BTA) - There were 620 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 7,804 tests were done in 24 hours, according to data posted on the national coronavirus platform on Tuesday. The test positivity rate is nearly 8 per cent. The active cases are 63,057. On Monday, there were 4,046 patients being treated in hospital, including 375 in intensive care. The daily recoveries stand at 2,583, bringing the total to 137,842. The daily death toll is 106, bringing the total to 8,232. The total number of confirmed cases is 209,131. The tests done since March total 1,230,338. NV/DD
• (DF) Deputy Prime Minister Zaharieva Receives North Macedonia's Special Representative Buchkovski
January 11 (BTA) - Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva Monday received the special representative for Bulgaria of the government of the Republic of North Macedonia, Vlado Buchkovski, who is on a working visit here for a few days, the Foreign Ministry said. The two exchanged views on ways to continue the process of confidence rebuilding between the two countries.
• (DF) President Says Everybody Should Work to Ensure Broad Participation of Expatriate Bulgarians in Upcoming Elections
January 11 (BTA) - In a video conference with representatives of organizations of expatriate Bulgarians on Monday, President Rumen Radev said that all state institutions, civic organizations and political parties should pool their efforts to make sure Bulgarians abroad participate actively in the upcoming elections for Bulgarian Parliament. The video conference was part of broad consultations the President is holding to make sure Bulgaria holds fair and safe national elections.
• (DF) Over 20% of Teachers Want COVID-19 Vaccine, State to Pay Medics 10 Lv per Dose Applied
January 11 (BTA) - The share of teachers in educational institutions who have expressed a desire to be vaccinated at this stage against COVID-19 is 21 per cent, said the Health Ministry press centre after a meeting between Health Minister Kostadin Angelov, Education and Science Minister Krassimir Valchev and members of the national coronavirus task force on Monday. The registration of those wishing to be vaccinated is still ongoing. The non-pedagogical staff in the educational institutions will also be vaccinated as a priority. Discussions at the Monday meeting were focused mainly on the anti-epidemic measures in schools and the forthcoming vaccination campaign for teachers and non-teaching staff. The analysis of the anti-epidemic measures is ongoing and it is still too early to make final decisions, the press service said. The State will pay medical professionals 10 leva per dose of the COVID-19 vaccine applied, the Health Ministry also reported following a meeting of Minister Angelov with his deputies Poyko Penkov and Zheni Nacheva and the leadership of the Bulgarian Medical Association. The money will come from the state budget and will be paid to GPs and to medics at diagnostic and consultation centres, medical-treament facilities, vaccination centres, and regional health inspectorates after the vaccination is entered in an electronic register. RI/DT, DS /??/
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 105 New Cases, Test Positivity Rate at 6.45%
January 11 (BTA) - There are 105 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 1,629 tests were done in 24 hours, according to data posted on the national coronavirus platform on Monday morning. The test positivity rate is 6.45 per cent. This brings the total number of cases to 208,511 since March. The active cases are 65,126. The highest number of new cases in the last 24 hours were registered in Sofia-city (30), followed by Varna (14) and Pernik (7). On Sunday, there were 4,205 patients being treated in hospital, including 380 in intensive care. The daily recoveries stand at 695, bringing the total to 135,259. The daily death toll is 29, bringing the total to 8,126. The number of vaccinated persons in Bulgaria stands at 13,473. RI/DS /??/
• (NW) Maria Bakalova has won the Best Supporting Actress award of the US National Society of Film Critics
January 10 (BTA) Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, 24, has won the Best Supporting Actress award of the US National Society of Film Critics for her part in "Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm". The talented Bulgarian actress graduated from the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts. In Borat she plays Tutar Sagdiyev, the 15-year-old daughter of the titular Kazakh journalist portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen
• (DF) Consensus Exists for Need of Legal Amendments Concerning Right to Vote of Quarantined, Self-isolating Voters - President Radev
January 10 (BTA) - A clear consensus already exists regarding the need of legal amendments, first and foremost, in respect of guaranteeing the right to vote of all people placed under quarantine or of self-isolating voters, and of distance voting by mail of all Bulgarians living abroad and going to the polls amid a pandemic in a country where lockdown restrictions are in place, President Rumen Radev said Sunday during his second day of meetings with extra-parliamentary political formations within the framework of consultations initiated by him to ensure the conduct of safe, fair and transparent elections. Vice President Ilyana Iotova too attended the talks. Tsvetan Tsvetanov, leader of the Republicans for Bulgaria political party and formed Number Two at GERB, the major partner in the ruling coalition, urged for changing the currently tentative election date of March 28. Tsvetanov said his party is ready for elections on this first constitutionally possible date but noted that legislative readiness to conduct the poll is absent. The legal amendments proposed by the Republicans for Bulgaria include rotating regional directors of the interior, providing a legal opportunity whereby the Central Election Commission and district election commissions include members from extra-parliamentary formations, online streaming of the counting of votes and filling in tally sheets, mail voting by Bulgarians abroad, and guaranteeing the participation of all runners in the elections in the national public media: the Bulgarian National Radio and the Bulgarian National Television. Tsvetanov said his party is against extending the duration of polling day. Speaking to reporters after the talks with Radev, he said that an acceptable date for the elections would be in mid-April. Radev said that electronic voting is impossible to ensure for the next elections but that mail voting is totally feasible, as well as real time video surveillance of vote counting and filling in of tally sheets. The ABV party of Roumen Petkov argued that acceptable dates for the elections are May 15 and 16. Petkov suggested that the polls open at 7 am on May 15, close at 7 pm, then re-open at 7 am on the next morning and finally close at noon, which will make it possible for the distric election commissions to finish up their work before nightfall and thus avoid over-tiredness. Petkov said that voter turnout should be promoted in Bulgaria first and foremost, because if the six million voters here are not convinced to go to the polls, it will be difficult to reach Bulgarians abroad. The Chairman of the MIR political party, Simeon Slavchev, suggested video surveillance of the entire voting process, not just of the vote counting. Slavchev insisted that the health protocol be drawn up publicly, with the participation of the entities running in the elections. Furthermore, equal treatment is to be ensured of all parties by the media, and guaranteed access to the public media. Slavchev further raised the question of what he described as "unconstitutional" election of Information Services as the body responsible for the data from the vote counting. MIR insisted that this task is awarded under the Public Procurement Act. The party also suggested setting up a national fair elections task force uniting all political parties who are in favour of fair elections and all institutions in charge of the voting process. Radev said that more options should be provided for fostering a competitive environment for all parties in the election campaign, in particular regarding media coverage. In respect of video surveillance, the President said that it should be implemented, on the part of the election administration by means of direct streaming online in the Central Election Commission, as well as on the part of the members of the district commissions, observers and candidates representatives, who in his words, could take shots with their phones. RI/ZH //
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 394 New Cases and 6.67% Rate of Positive Tests in Bulgaria in 24 Hours before Saturday Midnight
January 10 (BTA) - The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bulgaria reached 208,406 after 5,910 tests identified 394 new infections in the 24 hours until Saturday midnight, according to data posted on the national coronavirus information portal, www.coronavirus.bg. This translates into a daily test positivity rate of 6.67 per cent. A total of 1,220,910 tests have been performed since the first infections were diagnosed on March 8. The active cases are 65,745. Currently, the hospitalized patients number 4,190, including 380 in intensive care. Some 542 COVID-19 patients have recovered over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 134,564. Nineteen more fatalities were reported, bringing the death toll to 8,097. Some 118 people were vaccinated in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 13,473. RI/ZH //
• (DF) President Radev in Consultations with Extraparliamentary Parties:The Goal Is a Legitimately Elected Parliament
January 9 (BTA) - During President Rumen Radev's consultations with extraparliamentary political parties on Saturday, discussing ways to ensure fair and safe elections when Bulgarians vote for a new Parliament, he said that the common goal of institutions and political parties is finding the best solutions to preserve the health of the citizens, their right to vote and the trust in the election process, resulting in a normal voter turnout and a legitimately elected parliament. He added that it is important to conduct the pre-election campaign on an equal footing, so that Bulgarians can be realistically represented in next parliament. Toshko Yordanov, deputy leader of There Is Such a People, said that as the law stands, the President must set a date for the elections, and the party will accept any decision he makes within the two months he has to do so. Filip Stanev of There Is Such a People warned that the upcoming vote will be organized by the ruling GERB, which casts a shadow of suspicion over the fairness of the elections. During his meeting with representatives of Democratic Bulgaria, President Radev focused on the party's bill on postal voting for Bulgarians abroad and auditing the voting machines. He said that the receipt in such voting must bear both a barcode and the name of the political party chosen, to be subsequently checked against the memory of the voting machine. According to him, this will guarantee the reliability of machine voting. Hristo Ivanov of Democratic Bulgaria said that the party is ready to submit the bills in question, and insisted that political parties be allowed to collect the petitions for participation in the elections digitally, as an anti-epidemic measure. He also suggested that vote counting be streamed online in real time, and election runners be granted more air time on the national television and radio. Leader of Izpravi se.BG (Rise Up) Maya Manolova said that the organization of fair elections has been sabotaged by the very institutions that are supposed to conduct them. She proposed that a second, citizen's central election commission be established and tasked with counting the votes in parallel with the Central Election Commission. In Manolova's opinion, the Election Code already provides for cases of quarantined voters, using mobile voting stations and video surveillance of the elections. Izpravi se.BG will insist on allowing postal voting for Bulgarian citizens abroad or in quarantine. President Radev replied that the Central Election Commission refuses to regulate mobile station voting and real-time video recording of the election process. He added that paper receipts must be counted and double checked against the electronic memory of the voting machines. The representatives of Vazrazhdane suggested to the President that active citizens and civic organizations assume the role of observers during the election process, with at least three of them in each voting station to reduce the risk of manipulation. Leader Kostadin Kostadinov said that the party is in favour of March 28 as election day, and demanded revisions in the Election Code regarding political advertisement. In his opinion, the principle "if you don?t pay, you get no coverage" leaves many people unable to find the political party that would represent them best in the National Assembly. President Radev's meetings with representatives of extraparliamentary political parties will continue on Sunday. RI/MT /??/
• (DF) Bulgaria Registers Positivity Rate of 7.6% Over Past 24 Hours
January 9 (BTA) - The Ministry of Health informed on Saturday that over the past 24 hours a total of 753 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Bulgaria out of 9,871 tests, for a positivity rate of 7.63 per cent. The total number of confirmed cases in Bulgaria since the start of the pandemic reached 208,012 of whom 65,912 are active. With 61 new fatalities to coronavirus and related complications over the past 24 hours, Bulgaria's death toll now stands at 8,078. The number of recoveries rose by 3,831 since yesterday, which was over five times more than the newly confirmed cases. So far a total of 134,022 people have successfully recovered from the infection. Hospitals are currently treating 4,186 people of whom 380 are in intensive care. With 2,238 vaccinations in Bulgaria since yesterday, their number reached 13,355. RI/MT /??/
• (DF) Sofia Airport CEO Tenders Resignation
January 8 (BTA) - The Executive Director of Sofia Airport, Vladimir Rapondzhiev, has tendered a resignation letter for personal reasons, Bulgarian National Radio said Friday citing the Ministry of Transport, IT and Communications. He will continue to carry out his obligations until the appointment of a new director. Before taking office in May 2017, Rapondzhiev headed the Sofia Airport Security Department for seven years. His resignation comes soon after the airport announced a decision to increase drastically the frees for servicing international flights. The decision was published on Sofia Airport's website in October 2020 and was undersigned by Rapondzhiev. It triggered complaints by three air carriers - the low-cost Wizz Air and Ryanair, and Bulgarian flag carrier Bulgaria Air, with Wizz and Ryan warning that they might reconsider their flight programme for Sofia. The complaints halted the entry into force of the higher fees and Tourism Minister Mariyana Nikolova told Wizz Air officials earlier this week that the appreciation of fees is not going to happen this year. Capital, among other media outlets, speculates that with the proposal for higher fees the government was catering to the interests of the airport concession owner, which is about to step in soon and is not allowed to increase the airport fees in the first ten years of the concession. In July 2020, the government signed a 35-year concession contract for Sofia Airport with SOF Connect, including partners Meridiam, Strabag and Munich Airport. Capital also says that Rapondzhiev's resignation comes halfway through a competition for a new airport CEO and new board members. 12 candidates have applied for the CEO position but all have dropped out before reaching the last stage. The story points out the future CEO will be in charge of what remains of the airport company after the concessionnaire steps in. RI/DS
• (NW) 2021 Will Have the Latest Tax Freedom Day in 10 Years, Falls on May 20
January 8 (BTA) - Bulgarian people will be working 140 days for the government this year and tax freedom day will fall on May 20, according to the Institute of Market Economics (IME). It says that this is the latest tax freedom day in the past ten years. Due to the hit that the economy is taking from the pandemic, the budget revenue target is set at 47.6 billion leva. The Gross Domestic Product will be 124.5 billion leva, which means that each day Bulgarians will produce goods and services worth 341 million leva. Assuming that everything that is produced will be going to the public purse from the start of the year, it will take 140 days to fill it up - hence the tax freedom day on May 20. The share of GDP to be redistributed by the government is increasing and will reach 38.2 per cent. During the period of recovery from the previous crisis, during a relatively long period from 2013 to 2018 the budget revenue was around 35-36 per cent of GDP, Its increase this year shows that the government is taking a growing role in the economic life of the country. This trend is confirmed by one more major change: the considerably bigger public spending and the significant deficit, which is expected to reach 4.9 billion leva in 2021, IME said. Despite the decline in economic activity in the first half of last year, working Bulgarians paid more taxes for 2020 than they did for 2019. IME expects that they will pay more taxes this year as well. RY/LN/
• (NW) Sofia Airport CEO Tenders Resignation
Sofia, January 8 (BTA) - The Executive Director of Sofia Airport, Vladimir Rapondzhiev, has tendered a resignation letter for personal reasons, Bulgarian National Radio said Friday citing the Ministry of Transport, IT and Communications. He will continue to carry out his oblig...
• (DF) President Consults with Central Election Commission, Denies Promoting Idea of Two-day General Elections
January 8 (BTA) - President Rumen Radev Friday continued his meetings with officials to discuss ways to ensure fair and safe elections when Bulgarians vote for a new Parliament. Meeting with top officials of the Central Election Commission (CEC), the head of State denied being behind and promoting the idea of holding the general elections over two days. He thanked the media for covering the consultations he has been holding since January 5, but called for correctness in journalists' reports instead of interpretations of the information being reported. In his words, he has clearly stated that ideas and proposals for two-day elections have been submitted to him and, naturally, he has been sharing these with mayors. "Let mayors say what huge problems exist if we choose this option," he added. Friday's meeting was also attended by representatives of the Directorate General for Civil Registration and Administrative Services, the National Statistical Institute, the Bulgarian Standardization Institute, and the Electronic Governance Executive Agency. The President presented to the participants in the meeting proposals he has received during his consultations with various organizations. In his words, it would be a good sign if people working at the polling districts know that they will receive a protective mask of a certain class, as is the case in various countries, that they will be given clear instructions whether to change the masks, how often to air the rooms, and what the rooms should be like. It would also be a good sign to give a pack of personal protective equipment to voters coming to the polling districts, as a way to show that the State cares for its citizens and to increase the trust in the election process, he said. According to CEC head Alexander Andreev, the voting of voters placed in isolation over COVID-19 cannot be regulated without amendments to the Election Code, because neither voting by post nor voting by proxy is regulated in Bulgarian legislation. In his words, democratic and fair elections need to be guaranteed, and broad interpretation could cast doubt on these principles, which is also tied to the trust in the election process. Andreev mentioned machine voting as another challenge in the coming elections. A supplier of the 9,600 voting machines needed has already been selected, he recalled. Asked by the President about an audit of the machines, Andreev said that personally, he does not see an obstacle to inviting NGOs to participate in the process of certifying and auditing the voting machines. RI/DS /DT/
• (DF) Bulgarian Multimedia Artist Theodore Ushev Recognized as Most Influential Animator of Past 25 Years
January 8 (BTA) - Bulgarian multimedia artist Theodore Ushev was voted the world's most influential animator of the past 25 years, BTA was informed by the artist's team.
• (DF) Bulgaria Registers 867 New Cases Over Past 24 Hours
January 8 (BTA) - A total of 867 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Bulgaria over the past 24 hours out of 9,911 tests, for a positivity rate of 8.75 per cent, according to coronavirus.bg on Friday morning.
• (NW) November Retail Trade Down 5% in EU, Up 1.2% in Bulgaria - Eurostat
January 7 (BTA) - In November 2020, the COVID-19 containment measures introduced again by several Member States had a significant impact on retail trade, as the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade fell by 6.1 per cent in the euro area and by 5.0 per cent the EU, compared with October 2020, according to estimates from Eurostat released on Thursday. In Bulgaria, November retail sales rose by 1.2 per cent month-on-month.
• (DF) Public Council with Central Election Commission: Mid-Pandemic Elections Are Possible, Need Careful Planning
January 7 (BTA) - In a statement on Thursday the Public Council with the Central Election Commission (CEC) said that holding elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic is possible but needs careful planning and adequate safety measures. The Council insists that CEC and the competent authorities inform the public that they have begun preparations for the upcoming elections in the conditions which are expected for the spring of 2021. Such urgency is necessary because it will take time and resources to implement the respective decisions, to earn the trust of the political entities and of voters that their rights will be safeguarded and voting will be relatively safe including for members of the section election commissions. The Council recommends that CEC reduce to a minimum the need for physical contact between people and between people and physical objects. It proposes an alternative for online meetings of district election commissions and electronic filing of documents for the registration of parties, coalitions and candidates as well as improving remote training by CEC. The Council underscores the need for safety at voting stations. Abundant information is available about measures implemented in dozens of other countries which held elections since the spring of 2020. These include personal protection equipment, control over the number of people in the voting premises or buildings, disinfection and ventilation of spaces. According to election experts, voting by people under quarantine cannot be cancelled as it will violate the legitimacy of the voting process. Election Code provisions about persons with long-term disability who can be visited by mobile voting sections can be interpreted in a broader sense or can be amended to mention explicitly COVID-19 affected voters. The Council is proposing a limited pilot project for voting by mail which will be tabled at the National Assembly if the Election Code is to be amended in the coming weeks. Absences of members of the section commission is a typical problem on voting days which can be aggravated. The Council suggests that district election commissions which appoint the section election commission prepare lists of backup members based on transparent election and possibly competition. They should be paid remuneration for training and full remuneration as members of the section election commissions if they are called on duty. In order to insure the transparency of te election process, the Council will propose to the legislator to allow for livestreaming the counting of the ballots and the tallying of the votes. Instead of systemic counting of machine voting results by section election commissions, which will unnecessarily draw out the processing of the results, the Council suggests that results are reported in based on machine printouts which should be subjected to a random control count by district election commissions. Later representatives of the Council disucssed the proposals with President Rumen Radev within the framework of consultations initiated by him to ensure transparent elections. In connection with the Council's analysis of machine voting and the role of the election administration Radev said that senior election officials are instilling distrust in machine voting. RI/PP //
• (DF) Prime Minister Borissov: President Radev Should Not Use Pandemic as an Excuse to Postpone Parliamentary Elections
January 7 (BTA) - Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told journalists at the Council of Ministers on Thursday that the date of the parliamentary elections is set by the Head of State, and if President Radev has already scheduled them for March 28, he should not use the developments in the pandemic situation as an excuse to change the date. Borissov made a surprise appearance at the press conference of the national coronavirus task force. He said that Bulgaria is preparing for elections on March 28, and called for the immediate vaccination of as many people as possible, including general practitioners. Borissov replied to President Radev's statement that Borissov and Delyan Peevski (MP of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and an influential publisher and businessman) are partners. The President said that "Mr. Borissov is a confidant of Turkish President Erdogan, who sent a greetings message to the recent MRF conference." Borissov said that "No one should be playing the ethnic card, especially with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and Turkish President Erdogan: anyone who doesn't know the history of Bulgaria's national revival should be more careful in their phrasing." Borissov denied any connections with the MRF, saying that he could reply in kind to the President by linking him to businessman Vasil Bojkov (a fugitive gambling tycoon who lost his gambling empire in early 2020 and is now in the United Arab Emirates, from where Bulgaria is seeking his extradition). "President Erdogan calls me a friend, but this is what the other Balkan presidents call me, too," Borissov said. He pointed out the great importance of the agreement between Bulgaria and Turkey related to the zero migrant pressure on Bulgaria and major investments by Turkish companies. He also said that the MRF has supported the governance on several occasions related to Bulgaria's Euro-Atlantic orientation. RI/MT //
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 1,002 New Cases In 24 Hours
January 7 (BTA) - In the past 24 hours, 1,002 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed out of 10,088 tests, according to data published on the national coronavirus website on Thursday. The test positivity rate is 9.93 per cent. This brings the total number of COVID-19 infections to 206,392. Of these 69,642 cases are active. Some 4,262 patients have been hospitalized, with 379 in intensive care. In 24 hours, there were 2,032 recoveries, bringing the total number to 128,789. With 59 fatalities in 24 hours, the total death toll stands at 7,961. RI/PP //
• (DF) President to Set Parliamentary Election Date in Decree by End-January
January 6 (BTA) - President Rumen Radev will set the date for the parliamentary elections in a decree which he will issue by the end of January. Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Radev noted that the pre-election consultations he is having with senior healthcare professionals, election officials and politicians are about the way the ballot should be conducted, not the date.
• (NW) Eurostat: Nearly a Third of Bulgarians Cannot Adequately Heat Their Homes
January 6 (BTA) - Bulgaria is the country in the European Union (EU) with the largest share of people who cannot adequately heat their homes, show data from the European statistical office Eurostat for 2019.
• (DF) Bulgaria Registers 1,310 New Cases of COVID-19 Over Past 24 Hours
January 6 (BTA) - Over the past 24 hours 1,310 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Bulgaria out of 11,456 PCR tests for a positivity rate of 11.44 per cent. The total number of coronavirus cases in Bulgaria is 205,390, and 70,722 of them are active. Hospitals are treating 4,286 people of whom 393 are in intensive care. With 2,142 new recoveries since yesterday, their total number reached 126,766. With 67 new fatalities since yesterday, Bulgaria's death toll to COVID-19 reached 7,902. RY/MT /??/
• (NW) Survey: Increasing Number of Roma Children Attend School over Past Ten Years
Sofia, January 5 (BTA) - Over the past ten years, Bulgaria has registered a considerable increase in the number of children of Roma origin who attend school. Almost twice as many Roma youths finish high school, while the number of university graduates has increased sixfold. Th...
• (DF) President Meets Top Health Officials to Discuss How to Ensure Fair and Safe Elections during Pandemic
January 5 (BTA)- President Rumen Radev Tuesday met with top health officials to discuss ways to ensure fair and safe elections during the coronavirus pandemic. "As the President of this country, it is extremely important for me to see that both the constitutional right to vote and safety are guaranteed for Bulgarians in the upcoming elections for National Assembly," the President said in his opening remarks. Radev has said on a number of occasions that he intends to schedule elections for March 28, which is the earliest possible date according to the Constitution but his team has indicated that the pandemic could cause a postponement of the vote. Commenting the presidential consultations during a visit in the northern town of Veliko Turnovo school, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov expressed surprise that the date of the elections is being discussed after March 28 had been mentioned by the President, and blamed Radev with trying to pass onto the health authorities the responsibility for a postponement. Participating in the President's first meeting on Tuesday were Health Minister Kostadin Angelov, Chief Health Inspector Angel Kunchev and the head of the coronavirus vaccination task force, Prof. Krassimir Gigov. Another meeting was held later the same day with virology professor Radka Argirova, immunology professor Andrei Chobanov and pulmonologist Alexander Simidchiev. Radev said that holding elections in such conditions is a challenge both for the authorities and for the health system, and requires that many factors be taken into consideration and careful planning be done. The President said that many countries have already had elections during the pandemic, and mentioned as examples the United States, France, Germany, South Korea, Israel, Poland, Croatia, Romania and the Republic of North Macedonia. Protocol for Elections during Pandemic The Health Minister and the Chief Health Inspector told the President that a protocol is being prepared for holding elections during a pandemic. It will make sure that people exercise their voting right without risking their health. The protocol will be made public when the date of elections is officially announced, said Minister Angelov. The Minister also said that quarantined people may be allowed to take a couple of hours' break from the isolation and go to the polls. Use of mobile voting stations is also an option Everybody's safety must be guaranteed, including the election administration, Angelov added. According to Kunchev, the effect of several factors on the course of the pandemic remains to be seen, including the two coronavirus variants from the UK and South Africa. Vaccination Numbers The Health Minister said that the first shipment of coronavirus vaccines included 9,750 dozes, followed by a second batch of 25,000 dozes, 35,000 dozes around January 11 and as many at the end of the month. It will leave 50,000 Bulgarians vaccinated. When a contract is signed with Moderna, Bulgaria will receive 500,000 vaccines but a clearance from the European Commission and the European Medicines Agency is still to come. It won't be until mid-January when it will be clear which COVID restrictions can be relaxed, the Health Minister said. He also said that Bulgaria has enough protective gear for the coming months, and that there is enough for the members of the election commissions. The President is also expected to meet with election administration officials. NV/LN/
• (NW) 41% of Bulgarians Live in Overcrowded and 11.5% in Underoccupied Homes - Eurostat
January 5 (BTA) - Just over 41 per cent of Bulgarians live in overcrowded homes, according to a new report by Eurostat. It means that there are not enough rooms relative to the size of the household. This places Bulgaria third among the countries with the worst overcrowding problem. The first two are Romania and Latvia with some 46 and 42 per cent of their population living in overcrowded conditions. The EU average is 17.2 per cent. Overcrowding is least common in Cyprus (just over 2 per cent), Malta (3.7 per cent) and the Netherlands (4.8 per cent). Compared to 2010, the picture in 2019 - for which the latest figures apply - shows some improvement with regard to overcrowding. In 2010, overcrowding affected an average of 19 per cent of Europeans and over 47 per cent of Bulgarians. At the same time, one in three Europeans lives in an underoccupied dwelling, meaning that there are more rooms (usually bedrooms) than the household needs. The share of Bulgarians living in underoccupied conditions is 11.5 per cent. Other countries with less than 15 per cent of the population living in underoccupied housing are Romania (7.7 per cent), Latvia (just under 10 per cent) and Italy (14.2 per cent). NV/LN/ //
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 1,029 New Cases and 9.55% Rate of Positive Tests in Bulgaria on Tuesday
January 5 (BTA) - There are 1,029 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 10,774 tests done 24 hours before midnight on Monday, according to the national coronavirus information portal. It makes a rate of positive tests of 9.55 per cent.
• (DF) President Launches Consultations On Fair and Safe Elections
January 4 (BTA) - President Rumen Radev will launch consultations to take the necessary measures in order to ensure fair and transparent elections while guaranteeing the right to vote and the safety of the Bulgarian citizens, Radev's Press Secretariat said on Monday.
• (DF) Vaccination of Teachers, Care Home Residents and Staff Starts within Ten Days
January 4 (BTA) - The COVID-19 vaccine will start to be administered to teachers and care home residents and staff within ten days, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said on Monday. He and Bulgarian Drug Agency Executive Director Bogdan Kirilov gave a briefing at Sofia Airport where the second shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, this time of 25,000 doses, arrived. The first shipment of 9,750 doses arrived on December 26. A growing number of people want to be inoculated and a vaccine will be available to everyone who needs it and wants it, said Angelov. Bulgaria ranks 24th in coronavirus incidence and 3rd in mortality in the EU, he said. Another 25,000 doses of the vaccine are due to arrive in 10 days. Mass vaccination will be rolled out in February or March and the logistics for it will be prepared by the end of January, said the Health Minister. Four cases of side effects were reported by January 1, said Bogdan Kirilov. They were injection site pain, dizziness for 15 minutes and low-grade fever for one day. RI/DD //
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 171 New Cases, Test Positivity Rate at 6.4%
January 4 (BTA) - There were 171 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 2,660 tests were done in 24 hours, according to data posted on the national coronavirus platform on Saturday. The test positivity rate is 6.4 per cent. This brings the total number of cases to 203,051 since March. The tests done so far total 1,162,942. The active cases are 72,962. On Sunday, there were 4,689 patients being treated in hospital, including 453 in intensive care. The daily recoveries stand at 944, bringing the total to 122,411. The daily death toll is 34, bringing the total to 7,678. RI/DD //
• (NW) 123 Charging Stations for Electric Cars Built in Bulgaria with EU Funding, 76 More Underway
Sofia, January 3 (BTA) - A total of 123 charging stations for electric cars have been built in Bulgaria with EU funding under the operational programmes for regional development in the current and the previous programming periods, the Ministry of Regional Development and Publi...
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 340 New Cases, Test Positivity Rate at 13.1%
January 3 (BTA) - There are 340 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 2,585 tests were done in 24 hours, according to data posted on the national coronavirus platform on Sunday. The test positivity rate is 13.1 per cent.
• (NW) Ombudsman: Most Complaints in 2020 about Water and Heating Bills, Pensions
January 2 (BTA) - More than 13,200 individuals filed complaints and received help, and 23,865 people submitted collective petitions and complaints as at December 23, 2020, according to a report drawn up by the office of Ombudsman Diana Kovacheva.
• (DF) Prime Minister Borissov, Serbian President Vucic Talk Infrastructure, Energy
January 2 (BTA) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic discussed transport infrastructure and energy partnership on the telephone on Saturday, the government information service said. The two exchanged New Year's greetings and concurred that the excellent friendly and goodneighbourly relations would continue to developed actively in all areas of shared interest.
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 274 New Cases, Test Positivity Rate at 11%
January 2 (BTA) - There are 274 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 2,447 tests were done in 24 hours, according to data posted on the national coronavirus platform on Saturday. The test positivity rate is 11 per cent.
• (NW) Banking System's Profit Stands at Lv 866 Million as at End-November
January 1 (BTA) - As at November 30, 2020, the profit of the banking system stood at 866 million leva, 663 million leva (43.4 per cent per cent) less than a year earlier, the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) reported on Thursday.
• (DF) Prime Minister Borissov: Bulgaria's Investments Allow Full Diversification of Energy Sources
January 1 (BTA) - After Bulgaria started getting Azeri natural gas supplies on December 31, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Friday: "Bulgaria's investments and capacity allow full diversification of energy sources. This whole infrastructure is 100 per cent Bulgarian." He visited the Petrich compressor station on January 1 with Energy Minister Temenouzhka Petkova and Azerbaijan's Ambassador Nargiz Gurbanova.
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 1,046 New Cases, Test Positivity Rate at 18.2%
January 1 (BTA) - There are 1,046 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 5,739 tests done in 24 hours, according to data posted on the national coronavirus platform on Friday. The test positivity rate is 18.2 per cent.
• (DF) The President's New Year's Address: The Pain and Lessons of the Past Year and Hopes for Change in the New Year
January 1 (BTA) - In his New Year address to the nation, broadcast in the last minutes of 2020, President Rumen Radev spoke about the pain and lessons of the past year and the hopes of the new year. The protests against corruption and the political establishment figured prominently in the address and he spoke of an "anti-mafia consensus among millions of honest Bulgarians" and "the brotherhood of honest people in the squares". He said that Bulgaria and the world are seeing off a difficult year marked by a pandemic that claimed the lives of friends and relatives. "We went through a painful adaptation to a new way of life - of working, studying and communicating," the head of State said, adding that his thoughts are with the Bulgarians who are meeting the new year alone, deprived, saddened and disillusioned, the thousands of doctors, nurses and nurses' aids, who bore the brunt of this crisis. "In 2020, life reminded everyone how much freedom, solidarity and humaneness cost," said the President. The past year was also the year of Bulgarian awakening. Thousands declared their will to put an end to the lies, lawlessness and corruption. The anti-mafia consensus united millions of honest Bulgarians here and abroad, and the failure to deal with the pandemic, the ruin of small businesses, poverty and widespread lawlessness only confirmed the urgent need for radical change, Radev noted. The President said that Bulgarians will go to the voting polls twice in 2021. These elections must be organized in a manner than guarantees the health and voting rights of each Bulgarian, and any excuses for postponing machine and remote voting would be unacceptable, he said adding that the society is already organizing itself against the rigging of the elections. The President stressed the need for leadership "that can take this country out of the deep health, social and economic crisis and start dismantling the vicious governance model, strengthen statehood and rule of law, put an end to the theft, advance education, health care, science and culture as true priorities". Radev wished the Bulgarian people a year in which they will have the courage, inspiration and determination needed for making this change for which millions of people long. MY/LN
• (DF) Kindergartens, Schools for Grades 1-4 Reopen on January 4
December 31 (BTA) - Kindergartens and schools for grades 1-4 reopen on January 4, it was confirmed after a working meeting in Thursday convened by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of representatives of the national coronavirus task force, the national vaccination task force and ministers, the government's information service said. It transpired at the meeting that the counter-epidemic measures are producing a lasting effect so that based on 14-day covid incidence figures, Bulgaria ranks on the 24th place in the EU. Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said that the situation in this country is improving and that there are not regions where the incidence is above 600 per 100,000 of population. National coronavirus task force head and Director of the Military Medical Academy Ventsislav Moutafchiiski said that the number of covid patients in hospitals has dropped tangibly, which is "a breath of fresh air" for the medical teams. Head of the National Centre for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases Todor Kantardjiev said that arrangements are in place whereby laboratories continue to work with the same pace as now, to ensure that the data are fed regularly. Education and Science Minister Krassimir Vulchev said that the situation will be monitored constantly to see whether in-person schooling can resume in January for the other grades as well. The current measures remain in place until January 31, but flexibility will be shown based on the latest developments. Head of the vaccination task force Krassimir Gigiv said that inoculations with the first batch of vaccines are proceeding swiftly and are expected to be completed by the end of the day on Thursday. The second batch of vaccines: 25,000 dozes, will reach Bulgaria between January 4 and 8. RI/ZH //
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 1,729 New Cases, 20.4% Test Positivity Rate
December 31 (BTA) - There are 1,729 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 8,475 tests done in 24 hours, according to data posted on the national coronavirus platform on Thursday. The test positivity rate is 20.4 per cent. This brings the total number of cases to 201,220 since the start of the pandemic in March. The tests done so far total 1,149,545. The active cases are 75,370. On Wednesday, there were 4,831 patients being treated in hospital, including 467 in intensive care. The daily recoveries stand at 2,933, bringing the total to 118,335. The daily death toll is 110, bringing the total to 7,515. With 714 people vaccinated against COVID-19 on Wednesday, the total number of vaccines given to Bulgarians reached 4,608. RI/DD //
• (DF) Central Election Commission Selects Supplier of Electronic Voting Machines
December 30 (BTA) - Bulgaria's Central Election Commission (CEC) announced on Wednesday that it has selected the Ciela Norma AD company as the supplier of 9,600 specialized electronic voting machines. The company will also provide their logistical support and maintenance during the conduct of parliamentary elections in 2021 and training of election commissions' members to handle the devices. The voting machines must be supplied with installed system and application software capable of being modified for any type of elections provided for in the Election Code without intervention by the supplier. The selected company offered a total price of 43,198,800.00 leva inclusive of VAT. The other bidders in the competitive procedure were: Lex BG EAD (which came second with a price offer of 43,200,000.00 leva), CAD R&D Centre Progress Group AD, KONTRAX AD, Excelor Holding Group EOOD, the Bulgarian Voting Machines Civil-Law Company, and natural persons Mihail Dimitrov-Vishanin and Ivan Velichkov Ivanov. The CEC's decision is appealable before the Supreme Administrative Court within three days of its publication. Under the Election Code as last amended, voters in sections with over 300 voters will have an option to vote by machine or by paper ballot. Paper ballots only will be used in sections with fewer voters and abroad. RI/DS //
• (DF) Bulgaria Offers Help as Croatia Deals with Quake Aftermath
December 30 (BTA) - Bulgaria has offered financial and other help as Croatia is dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake that took lives and caused destruction. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had a phone call with Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenkovic to express his condolences after the earthquake. "Bulgaria feels for the tragedy of the Croatian people. We wish you fast recovery from the injuries and the damage," Borissov said in his phone call with Plenkovic. He expressed the readiness of the Bulgarian government to provide assistance and support in overcoming the aftermath of the quake. "We are ready to help friendly Croatia. It is in such times when solidarity and unity are most needed," the Bulgarian government leader is quoted as saying. At its weekly meeting, the government decided to extend 100,000 euro in financial support for Croatia, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva told a news briefing. Also, Bulgaria will help rebuild two emblematic buildings in Zagreb damaged by the quake: the Gornjogradska high school and the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. The restoration of the two buildings will cost an estimated 5 million euro and Bulgaria will provide 50,000 euro. Two Bulgarian producers of bottled mineral water have offered to deliver water to areas where water supply has been disrupted by the quake. They will send a TIR truck of water bottles each: one will leave on December 31 and the other on January 4. The director of the Fire Safety and Population Protection Directorate General, Chief Commissioner Nikolai Nikolov, told reporters in the northern town of Byala that Bulgaria is ready to send experts in the quake-hit regions of Croatia. He said that he spoke to his Croatian counterpart Wednesday morning to discuss what help is needed. Bulgaria has offered to send blankets, folding beds and electric heaters. Seventy-two members of a specialized quake rescue team and construction engineers are ready to leave for Croatia any time now, if their help is needed. A couple of days from now it will be clear if Croatia needs such assistance, Chief Commissioner Nikolov said. He added that the country does not need it right now. President Rumen Radev had a phone talk with his Croatian counterpart Zoran Milanovic, Radev's press secretariat informed later. The Bulgarian Head of State expressed this country's sympathy with the Croatian people and institutions. Radev confirmed Bulgaria's readiness to send search and rescue teams to Croatia if needed, and provide equipment to help overcome the aftermath of the quake. The Bulgarian President invited his counterpart to an official visit here at a convenient time. RY/MT /??/
• (DF) COVID-19 Update: 1,438 New Cases and 17% Positivity Rate in Bulgaria on Wednesday
December 30 (BTA) - There are 1,438 new coronavirus cases in Bulgaria after 8,084 tests done in the 24 hours to the beginning of Wednesday, according to the national coronavirus information platform.
• (NW) Social Partners Agree on Changes in Two Government Ordinances, Extending Crisis Relief Measures for Businesses and Workers
December 29 (BTA) - The tripartite partners (government, employers, unions) Tuesday approved changes to two government ordinances, extending until the end of March 2021 crisis-relief measures for businesses and workers. The changes were approved during an emergency online meeting held on the initiative of Deputy Prime Minister for Economic and Demographic Policy Mariyana Nikolova, said the Government Information Service. One of the changes extends the 60/40 job retention scheme whereby the government pays 60 per cent of the wage costs for workers threatened with furlough or job loss. The aid will be paid to employees who during the period from March 13 to December 21, 2020, worked shorter hours, were forced into unpaid leave or had their work suspended by COVID-related restrictions. The money will come from the budget of the National Social Security Institute. The other ordinance where changes were approved by the social partners, provides for the payment of 24 leva daily compensation to workers who have been forced to take unpaid leave due to the coronavirus pandemic. By the approved changes, from the beginning of 2021 furloughed workers with a contract of employment for a 8-hour work day will be entitled to 75 per cent of their contributory income for October 2020. For those working shorter work days, the compensation will be proportional to the work time in their contract of employment. This measure will be in effect until March 31, 2021, and the compensation shall be payable for no more than 60 days of unpaid leave. The money will come from the EU-funded Operational Programme Human Resources Development via the REACT-EU mechanism. RI/LN/ /??/
• (DF) Maya Manolova, Toxic Trio Sign Agreement to Share Ballot in 2021 Parliamentary Elections
December 29 (BTA) - Maya Manolova, leader of the Izpravise.BG civic platform, and lawyer Nikolay Hadjigenov of the Toxic Trio signed an agreement to run together in the parliamentary elections next spring, Manolova said on Tuesday. The two platforms will focus on a dramatic, unconditional increase of incomes and pensions, the judicial reform, business support and an overhaul of the governance model. The Toxic Trio, made up of Hadjigenov, sculptor Velislav Minekov and PR expert Arman Babikyan, are the self-proclaimed leaders of the anti-government protests which have been going on for nearly six months. Manolova added that they agreed on joint actions before, during and after the elections. She underscored that they agreed on six key priorities, such as ensuring a fair election process, joint lists in the upcoming elections, creating a majority to dismantle Prime Minister Boyko Borissov's monocracy, and drawing up a shared governance platform based on 70 measures announced by Izpravise.BG, which will be further expanded. According to Hadjigenov, the agreement is the first step towards the creation of a broad anti-corruption coalition. "The only way is to unite in a broad coalition, everyone against corruption, because we are faced with a mastodon with billions, corruption and a lot of clout," he added. Since neither platform is registered as a political party, Manolova explained that they will most likely run in the elections using the registration of one of the parties involved in Izpravise.BG. In Manolova's words, a similar agreement to prevent election rigging is expected to be reached in the coming weeks with Slavi Trifonov's There Is Such a People and with Democratic Bulgaria. RY/MT /DT/
• (DF) PM Thanks Church for Supporting COVID Vaccination
December 29 (BTA) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov thanked the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for backing COVID-19 vaccines. "Meeting with Bishop Evlogi of Adrianople, I thanked him for the support of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for the COVID-19 vaccination campaign," Borissov wrote in a Facebook post.

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