Earthquake Strikes Some 130 km SW of Sofia, Measures 5.3 on Richter Scale.
Sofia, April 24 (BTA) - An earthquake epicentred some 130 km south-west of Sofia outside Bulgarian territory was felt in Bulgaria on Wednesday afternoon, the Civil Defence Agency and the Seismological Centre with the Geophysics Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences said.
The quake struck at 1.52 p.m. and measured about 5.3 points on the Richter scale, according to preliminary data.
The Kozloduy nuclear power plant said the quake was not felt there and the area remained calm.
The earthquake was felt more tangibly in Southwestern Bulgaria, according to correspondents.
Moderate earthquake rattles central Balkans.
GNJILANE, Yugoslavia - An earthquake jolted areas throughout the central Balkans on Wednesday, killing one and leaving about 100 injured in Kosovo.
The quake's preliminary magnitude was measured at 5.1, with its epicenter some 280 kilometers (175 miles) south of Belgrade, near the town of Vitina in the southern province of Kosovo, said Slavica Radulovic, an official with the Seismological Institute of Serbia. The earthquake was first felt at 12:50 p.m. (1050GMT).
In Gnjilane, some 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of Pristina, one man was killed and about 100 people were injured by flying glass, a doctor on the scene told an Associated Press Television News reporter. The victim was identified as Isuf Bicku, a 42-year-old barber.
The minaret of the town's mosque collapsed and many buildings were seriously damaged, witness said.
An apparent aftershock hit Kosovo's capital, Pristina, just past 13:00 p.m. (1100GMT), with people rushing to leave buildings and apartments. In southern Serbia, in the cities of Vranje, Presevo and Bujanovac, locals also ran out of buildings as the quake lasted for about 40 seconds, toppling several chimneys.
Across the border to the south, in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, hundreds left buildings in panic and waited on the city's streets for almost two hours as a series of aftershocks followed.
Since a devastating earthquake in 1963 killed 1,072 people in Skopje, buildings in the region have been constructed to withstand some degree of shaking.
Areas in western and central Bulgaria were also hit, but no damage was reported there.
Bulgaria's PM Received at the White House.
Bulgaria's Prime-minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was receive into the White House by US President G. W. Bush yesterday night. Secretary of State Colin Powell also attended the meeting. Representatives of more than 15 leading US companies in the branches of energy production, defense industry, high technologies, software and tobacco industry conferred with Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha at a working breakfast at the US Chamber of Commerce yesterday. The event marked the beginning of the second day of the working visit of the Bulgarian Prime Minister to USA at the invitation of the President Bush. Managers of leading companies like Westinghouse, AES Corporation, Lockheed Martin, JP Morgan, and Philip Morris showed high interest in the Bulgarian Government policy in high technologies, information systems and energy production. Special attention was paid on issues concerning legislation in Bulgaria, anti-corruption bills and land ownership. The Prime Minister informed those who were present with the government's middle term and strategic plans in those branches of industry. The US business representatives insisted on Bulgaria's Prime Minister main message to USA in relation to the country's expectations for a positive consideration of its NATO membership application in the autumn of the present year. Bulgaria is a serious US ally in the war on terrorism, emphasized Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He added that the country's efforts are targeted at the fulfilling of its engagements to NATO and that he expects its application to be considered as one of an ally state, which contributes to the Alliance's security. In his final statement the Vice President of the US Chamber of Commerce Greg Lebedev praised the temperate and sensible attitude concerning the fulfillment of the government's program expressed by the Bulgarian Prime Minister. He declared that he was deeply impressed by the good work of the young expert team of the Cabinet. At the invitation of the Heritage Foundation, Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg delivered a lecture entitled 'NATO's enlargement in Southeast Europe: the American interest'. In it the Bulgarian Prime Minister repeated Bulgaria's will to receive an invitation to NATO membership at the summit in Prague in the context of President's Bush stated vision for the Alliance's enlargement from the Baltic sea to the Black sea. Simeon Saxe-Coburg pointed out that our country is acting as a 'de facto' America's ally as in the operation in Afghanistan as in the KFOR and SFOR missions in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina before that. The permanent engagement of Bulgaria in the region releases NATO's capacities, which can be used for other purposes in the antiterrorist campaign. The Prime Minister paid special attention on the 2+2 dialogue between Bulgaria and Rumania on one side and Turkey and Greece on the other as well as on the Bulgarian contribution to the regional stability in Southeast Europe. Paraphrasing the motto of the Heritage Foundation the Prime concluded that NATO's enlargement to southeast is equal to the establishing of a region with freedom, prosperity and civil society. The guests included a representative of the President's administration, of the US Congress, of NGO's and of the diplomatic corps. Simeon also met his friend Morocco's King Mohammed VI, also invited by President Bush. The two of them conversed in the Blair House residence, in which the African Monarch stayed.
FOREIGN MINISTER - NATO - US.
Bush/Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Meeting Is "Very Strong Trump Card" for NATO Membership, Foreign Minister Says.
Sofia, April 24 (BTA) - "An extremely successful meeting which won very high marks from both sides, and a very strong trump card in favour of Bulgaria's bid for NATO membership" - such was the assessment of the April 23 talk between Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and US President George W. Bush, expressed by Foreign Minister Solomon Passy on April 24.
Passy made the comment for National Radio by telephone from Brussels, where he and Defence Minister Nikolai Svinarov are attending a '19 plus 1' meeting of the North Atlantic Council. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is on a working visit to the US at the invitation of President Bush.
After the Prime Minister's talk with the US President, "Bulgaria's drive for NATO membership entered a new stage," Passy said. "President Bush's support is more than obvious."
"Bush gave very high assessment to the performance of the Prime Minister, his government and the entire nation on the track towards NATO," Passy said.
According to the Foreign Minister, the North Atlantic Council's reaction to the Bulgarian report on April 23 was "more than good - very positive indeed."
In particular, the Council appreciates the legislative measures taken by Bulgaria. The NATO officials praised the law on the protection of classified information, he said. "The law is really flawless; what remains to be done is to apply it."
"In many ways, this law even surpasses NATO standards because it incorporates the experience of countries such as NATO's new members Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which have faced problems similar to those experienced by Bulgaria," Passy said.
Brussels appreciates the fact that the Bulgarian authorities are aware of the current problems and have an action plan for coping with the challenges. "We get whatever support we need," Passy said.
The negotiations on Bulgaria's accession to the European Union are "proceeding at a remarkable pace," he said.
Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Discusses Bulgaria's NATO Membership Bid with US Congressmen.
Washington, April 24 (BTA special correspondent Roumyana Kinkina) - The issue of former State Security records was not raised at any of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's meetings in Washington, the Bulgarian government leader told journalists.
"State Security records are a matter apart. They are not interested in them. It is classified documents that are connected with NATO: we must be very careful about this matter," Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said after meeting with House representatives.
The Bulgarian prime minister talked with senators from the Committee on Foreign Relations, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other congressmen.
The prime minister heard many positive views on Bulgaria, even more than he expected.
"I feel that not only are we strongly supported, but that there is the conviction that we are on the right track," Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said. The congressmen recommended that Bulgaria should continue working, and that it should carry on reforms even after a possible invitation to join NATO.
Asked what could stand in the way of Bulgaria's NATO membership, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said: "Only if we fail to do our job."
The prime minister described as "rather emotional" Tuesday's statement by Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, who called on Bulgaria to vote against some UN Security Council resolutions and support Israel. Foxman survived the Nazi death camps. "He is a very interesting person and I was much impressed by him," Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said.
The Bulgarian prime minister will dine at Ambassador Elena Poptodorova's residence with senators, congressmen and senior administration representatives on Wednesday evening.
PRESIDENT - BULGARIA - PM.
George Bush Encourages Bulgaria to Continue Preparation for NATO Membership.
Washington D.C., April 24 (BTA special correspondent Roumyana Kinkina) - US President George W. Bush on Tuesday encouraged Bulgaria to carry on with all aspects of its preparation for NATO membership in the run-up to the Alliance's November Summit in Prague, Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said.
The Prime Minister gave a news briefing after a half-hour meeting with President Bush in the White House Oval Office.
"The President encouraged us to be very persistent in our efforts until the last minute. I think this is what we really need to do," Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said.
The Prime Minister started a working visit to the United States on Saturday, April 20 at the invitation of President Bush.
"It was a wonderful and very rewarding meeting which proceeded in a cordial and straightforward manner. It exceeded my expectations by far, and I feel very grateful for that," the Prime Minister said.
He said that the meeting left him "more optimistic than before" regarding Bulgaria's prospects for NATO membership.
"I think President Bush is well disposed and supporting towards Bulgaria's membership bid," he said.
Asked whether the US President had expressed his opinion about Bulgaria's chances of obtaining a NATO membership invitation in Prague in November, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said: "No, it would not have been fair of me to ask him about that, nor would it have been fair of him to bring it up, considering that there are so many other candidate countries."
The meeting was also attended by Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Bush's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, National Security Council Senior Director for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, Vice President Richard Cheney's advisor Eric Edelman, US Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, and the President's Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
The Bulgarian side included all members of the official delegation and Bulgarian Ambassador to the US Elena Poptodorova.
Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg-Gotha did not hold a one-to-one talk with President Bush. According to the Prime Minister, no such talk had been planned.
Asked to assess the importance of his meeting with the President, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said: "The fact that the President conferred with me at a scheduled meeting shows that he is not unconcerned about Bulgaria, and I am proud of that."
The Middle East crisis also featured on the agenda of the talk, but Bulgaria was not mentioned in this context.
Asked whether Russia was among the topics discussed with the US side, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said: "Not with the President."
The Prime Minister was asked to elaborate on the reasons for the positive change in Washington's approach towards Bulgaria in the wake of Ivan Kostov's visit to the US as prime minister a year ago. "Such changes are always propelled by various factors. International developments as well as Bulgaria's progress towards NATO membership and in domestic reforms have perhaps all contributed to this. Who is the prime minister is not the most essential thing," Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said.
Concerning the two sides' assessment of the current degree of cohesion of interests, the Prime Minister said the key considerations in this context are the fight against terrorism and Bulgaria's ambition to join NATO.
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said he had conveyed a message by President Georgi Purvanov to President Bush.
The Prime Minister presented his host with an icon of St George the Victorious on the occasion of the religious festival on April 23.
Bulgaria outlines bid for NATO.
By Nicholas Kralev
The prime minister of Bulgaria, a NATO aspirant whose chances have been boosted by the war on terrorism, told President Bush yesterday that he feared an anti-Western backlash if his nation fails to win admission to the alliance.
Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the first ex-monarch in the world to hold an elective office, also presented to Mr. Bush an action plan of economic and military reforms his government intends to implement to secure an invitation at NATO's upcoming summit in Prague.
"We are working hard and are fully committed to becoming a NATO member," Mr. Saxe-Coburg told reporters during his four-day official visit to Washington. "We are a country of peace with all its neighbors that has contributed to stability in Southeast Europe."
He said Bulgaria acted as a de-facto member of the alliance during its 1999 war against Serbia over Kosovo and especially in the anti-terrorist campaign.
During both conflicts, the Balkan country opened its airspace to NATO aircraft. Since the operation in Afghanistan began last fall, U.S. planes have been using a Bulgarian air base on the Black Sea coast.
The prime minister said about 70 percent of his people favor NATO membership, the largest approval rating the alliance has in the nine applicant nations.
But he warned of a "big disappointment" if Bulgaria's candidacy is rejected that "could turn into a nationalistic backlash" and damage his government's efforts to Westernize and democratize the nation of 8.5 million.
"Some may even say that our relationship with the East is more reasonable, as in the old days of communism," he said, referring to Bulgaria's 45-year loyalty to the former Soviet Union.
The Western alliance is poised to take in as many as seven new members in Prague. The Bush administration has said it is committed to a large expansion, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, although it has refrained from naming specific candidates.
But at a meeting of the applicants in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, last month, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage gave the first public boost to Bulgaria and Romania.
Mr. Saxe-Coburg said yesterday either of those countries alone "can't serve the purpose of closing NATO's southeast flank." He noted that Greece and Turkey have been very supportive of Bulgaria's and Romania's bids because they would feel "less isolated" once the two former communist countries become members.
In addition to bringing security and stability, he said NATO membership would considerably increase foreign investment in Bulgaria, as happened in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic after they were invited in 1997 and especially after they joined two years later.
Bulgaria received a positive assessment of its determination to fulfill NATO's recommendations, which was formally handed to the foreign and defense ministers at the alliance's Brussels headquarters yesterday.
Mr. Saxe-Coburg, the child-king whom Bulgaria's communists expelled in 1946 at age 9, returned to his country's political life a year ago and became prime minister in July after his newly formed party won a general election.
CANADA - FOREIGN MINISTER - VISIT.
Bulgarian Foreign Ministers Pays Visit to Canada Sofia, April 24 (BTA) - Foreign Minister Solomon Passy is on an a visit to Canada in April 24-27. The chief aims of the visit are enlisting Canadas support for Bulgarias bid to join NATO and expanding bilateral political relations, the press office of the Foreign Ministry said.
This is the first visit of a Bulgarian foreign minister to Canada after the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1966.
Passy will confer with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham, Defence Minister Arthur Eggleton, Speaker of the House of Commons in the Canadian Parliament Peter Milliken, Chairperson of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee Jean Augustine and head of the Canadian delegation with NATOs Parliamentary Assembly Caroline Parish.
Defence Minister Nikolai Svinarov paid a visit to Canada in April 10 to 12.
"Minister Svinarov and I coordinated our visits to Canada so as to attract the countrys support for Bulgarias membership in NATO," Passy told the Bulgarian National Radio. Recent visits to Canada of Bulgarian statesmen include the visit in May 1998 of the then National Assembly chairman Yordan Sokolov, of former industry minister Alexander Bozhkov who conferred with his Canadian counterpart John Manley in 1998, and the unofficial visit of former president Peter Stoyanov to Toronto where he received the annual award of the Legal Initiative for Central and Eastern Europe of the American Bar Association.
Two-way trade between Bulgaria and Canada in 2001 stood at 41.2 million US dollars, with imports to Bulgaria totalling 22.2 million dollars and exports to Canada, 19.1 million dollars.
NMS Mad at Sociologists.
King's party is waiting for Simeon to say who of the nominees should be backed at the runoffs.
MPs from the NMS accused sociologists for the failure of the nominees for mayors backed by the King's Movement. To Snezhana Grozdilova, NMS PG deputy chairwoman, sociologists forecast a turnout of 35 percent, but actually it was much smaller. The King's people are still fighting over whom to back at the runoffs in Rousse and Blagoevgrad on Saturday. "We'll wait for Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to formulate our stand on the runoffs in the two towns," sources form the NMS leadership said.
Import of Cheap Limos Stopped.
Over 50,000 posh cars are registered as property of physically handicapped people.
The state put an end to crooked dealings with powerful motor vehicles which were registered as property of disabled people, to evade VAT payment. On Thursday the cabinet changed the import regulations. Now physically handicapped people will not be able to import cars with engine's capacity over 1,800 cubic meters and over 100 h. p. During the last year only half of the 100 thousand imported cars in Bulggaria were registered as property of the disabled people. Usually these people receive $ 300-500 in cash for the right to use their name when a deluxe vehicle is imported to Bulgaria. Statistical data shows that physically handicapped people in the country "give preference" to Mercedes, BMWs and Audis.
Gen. Borissov Mad at Deputy Ministers.
from the Interior Ministry. The Chief Secretary complained that two of the IM superior officers rejected his idea to put in the Ministry's lobby a monument to the policemen who perished in duty status. Deputy ministers Boiko Kotsev and Tanyo Zheleztchev offered the strongest opposition, Borissov said. They explained to me that there was no room in the lobby and the Ministry had no funds for the monument, he added. Gen. Borissov and Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov yesterday opened a memorial plaque to their colleagues who were killed on duty. The plaque was designed by sculptor Stavry Kalinov. All heads of the national services of the Interior Ministry and the relatives of the perished officers came to commemorate them. From 1970, 30 policemen were killed in duty status.
Semerdziev Attacks Health Insurance Fund in the Rear.
The investigation against him is not over, but all pretend it doesn't exist
It sounds incredible, but all of a sudden Ilko Semerdziev became a member of the Managing Board of the Health Insurance Fund. No one utters a word about the fact that he is being investigated for the scandalous contract with the Aremis Soft company. More than that - rumors are spread in the Fund that the investigation has been stopped. The Prosecutors Office flatly denied this before "Standart". The Fund's Managing Board consists of 9 members. The fact that Ilko Semerdzhiev joined it is not decisive but quite symptomatic, admitted to "Standart" the Fund's administration. The first thing he did was to drain millions from the Fund's state subsidies, foreign credits and health insurance contributions for the building of 26 deluxe offices of the Fund throughout the country. Over 52 million levs were pored into the project. Part of the money has been swallowed by the consulting and construction firms close to the UDF government. At the end of 1999, Ilko Semerdziev signed a contract with the Aremis Soft company on the design of an IT system for the Fund. This has been done without any contest and in violation of the Public Procurement Act. The news came from Wall Street and "The New York Times". Thus we have learnt that the deal was worth $ 37,5 million. Before the fall of the UDF government legal procedure was started against Ilko Semerdziev for the deal with the Aremis Soft. Be as it may, but Semerdziev will do what he can. Not for the future of the Fund, though, but to cover up the past deals from the time when he was its director.
90 % of Nation Lives under Stress.
Around 90 percent of Bulgarians suffer from stress, every second complains of chronic fatigue syndrome. Because of the stressful everyday life Bulgaria tops the world's frequency charts as regards heart attacks, cerebral insults, high blood pressure and cancer, said MD Ivan Vitkov, psychotherapist from the "Bulgaria" Medical Association. To get rid of anxiety many people resort to alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.
27,000 Policemen Will Guard the Pope.
All police forces in the country, some 27,000, will be mobilized to ensure security during the Pope's visit and the parliamentary assembly of NATO, said yesterday Gen. Vassil Vassilev, Director of the National Police Service. In Sofia only 4,000-5,000 policemen will secure the public order. Reinforcement will come from the regional divisions of the Interior Ministry. All leaves in the police will be suspended.