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395. Bulgarian foreign minister on official visit to China

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-23

The Bulgarian deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Ivaylo Kalfin will be on official visit to the Peoples republic of China from 23 to 25 March 2009.

The visit is at the invitation of the Chinese minister of foreign affairs Yan Jieche. In Beijing Ivaylo Kalfin will also meet the Chinese vice president Xi Jipin, informed the press center of the Bulgarian foreign minsitry.

The Bulgarian delegations program includes visit of Shanghai where minister Kalfin will meet the leadership of the Shanghai municipality, business leaders and representatives of the Chinese-European school for international business. The Bulgarian foreign minister will take part in a round table on the topic EU-China relations in the 21st century. Minister Kalfin will also deliver a lecture in the East Chinese university on the role of Bulgaria in the Black sea region.

The official visit of Ivaylo Kalfin will mark also the 60th anniversary of the establishing of the diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and China. The will of the Bulgarian side for deepening of the bilateral political dialogue, including in the context of the strategic partnership between the EU and China is expected to be expressed again.

Ivaylo Kalfins visit will contribute to the further development of the cooperation between the foreign ministers of the two countries.

394. WWF and Radio Tangra organize an environment-friendly concert without electricity

News BG: 2009-03-21

WWF and radio Tangra Mega Rock announced a contest for bands and musicians, who would be willing to take part in the Sofia segment of the global event 'Earth Hour', which will take place on 28th March 2009, next Saturday, radio Tangra Mega Rock reports.

More than 1600 cities worldwide will switch off their electricity for one hour, thus showing their concern about environmental problems. In Bulgaria, we should take part at 8:30 p.m.

The concert in Sofia on that occasion is organized by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) with the help of Tahgra Mega Rock. Proceedings will kick off exactly one hour before the big electricity blackout - at 7:30 p.m. local time, on a stage built in front of the 'Ivan Vazov' National Theatre. There will be absolutely no use of any electricity whatsoever. The stage will be lit up by a mass of candles and there won't be any PA.

The contest is open to anyone who can create melodic or totally chaotic sounds without the use of electricity. Any local fire brigade brass band or local granny choir can take part, the organizers announce, as well as rock bands, of course.

The winners will be provided with the opportunity to show off their talents in the course of a 30-minute set, as part of a worldwide event. As stated above, the stage lighting will be entirely made up of candles. The participants will not be paid for this show, but they'll get to perform on a unique stage, at a unique event, the organizers also say.

Demos, recordings etc. are to be at office@radiotangra.com The deadline is March 25th, Wednesday. The winner will be announced on Friday, March 27th, on Tangra mega Rock's 'Jitball' show.

This is the third 'Earth Hour' global event organized by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF). At exactly 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, March 28th, people all around the world will switch off their electricity for the duration of an hour - Earth Hour! Over a billion people in 1600 cities around the globe! The goal is to show that it's now time for serious action to be taken regarding climate changes.

393. Venues in Bansko found violating copyright

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-20

More than 30 venues in the Bulgarian winter resort of Bansko have been found in violation of the Law on Copyrights and Neighbouring Rights (LCNR) and have not paid due fees to collective rights organisation Muzkiautor.

Inspections were performed by the directorate of copyrights and neighbouring rights of the Ministry of Culture, together with police and in co-ordination with Muzikautor, a media statement from the collective rights organisation said.

Muzikautor estimated the total damages at around 120 000 leva a year for venues in Bansko alone.

Under the LCNR, every public performance or broadcast, including those in cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels, is subject to royalties, payable to the collective rights organisation. This organisation then redistributes the money to record companies, performers and song writers.

Fees were calculated based on the number of stars and the number of beds for hotels, or the number of seats for restaurants and bars.

One of the hotels that had not paid its due fees was a luxury complex with 160 rooms and suites, three restaurants and three bars, Muzikautor said. The organisation estimated the copyrights fees for the hotel at more than 10 000 leva a year.

Eight venues that had been sanctioned the year before, appeared not to have paid due fees this year either. Among the eight was a hotel that was part of an international chain, Muzikautor said.

Under the LCNR, not paying due fees for copyrights and neighbouring rights is punishable by 300 to 3000 leva fines.

"Inspections by the Ministry of Culture is one of the few mechanisms we have to deal with these violations. And it seems they do pay off, athough there are still venues that simply refuse to pay," said Tsenko Minkin, chair of the board of Muzikautor.

According to Muzikautor, due to the almost 380 inspections in 2008 and despite some places refusing to pay fees due, revenues from fees paid by commercial and tourist venues in Bulgaria were up by 200 per cent.

392. Brokers say Bulgarias property market hit rock bottom

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-19

The Bulgarian real estate market has hit rock bottom and will not recover any time soon, Yavlena agency manager Strahil Ivanov said.

Speaking to students at the University of National and World Economy on March 18, Ivanov predicted prices of some properties could drop by 5 to 10 per cent. Now was the time to hunt for bargains, he said.

His opinion was echoed by most of Bulgarias major property agencies.

Tsvetelina Taseva, executive director of Address, said at a recent conference that buyers lower prices by 15 to 20 per cent if they have the money at hand.

Ivanov estimated properties in the centre of Sofia that are put up for sale at 2 000 euro a square metre at the moment, could fall to 1 600 euro.

Yavlena said deals in January and February were rare, but said quarterly numbers were expected to be three times lower. The company did receive inquiries from prospective buyers, which it said was a sign that the market was about to pick up. However, this is unlikely to happen before the end of the year, Ivanov said.

Real estate agency Elta Consult said more deals were expected towards the end of the year but prices would be lower.

Last week it emerged that prices in the mass home segment have gone back to levels of two years ago. Two-room flats in Sofia and Varna are available for purchase for 50 000 to 70 000 euro, according to a survey by Raiffeisen Real Estate. Asking prices in Sofia were 20 per cent higher than what buyers actually paid, the study found.

391. Russian youths to get free tourist visas for Bulgaria

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-18

Russians aged under 18 will get free tourist visas to Bulgaria when making group visits, Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Milen Keremedchiev was quoted as saying by Focus news agency on March 12 2009. Teachers accompanying the groups will also get a free visa provided there is one teacher for every 15 children, he said.

Annually, 30 000 to 40 000 Russian children visited Bulgaria on organised school trips.

"Granting free visas to Russian youths is a gesture that Bulgaria wants to make to Russian tourist in times of economic crisis," Keremedchiev said. According to him, the money that Bulgaria would lose in 2008 from grating the free-of-charge visas would be about one million euro, Focus said.

"I think that, overall, we will win back more than this one million euro, because organised school trips include visits to museums, galleries and other events that will additionally stimulate the Bulgaria business sphere," he said.

Bulgaria seems to have reached a solution to the Russian visa issue, since both Bulgaria and Russian tourist organisations have been calling for almost a year for a completely visa-free regime, not only for Russian, but for Ukrainian tourist, too. This measure is view by branch organisations as a way to boost Bulgaria's popularity as an attractive, cheap and easy-to-reach tourist destination, in competition with Greece and Turkey.

In a March 4 2009 letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, the Russian union of tour operators demandeda reduction in accommodation prices and the abolition of the visa regime, "otherwise Bulgaria is likely to lose its Russian tourists because other countries offer far cheaper and more attractive packages than Bulgaria".

According to statistics of the Bulgarian Association of Tourist Agencies, the implementation of free-of-charge visas would cost Bulgaria about 16 million leva, but revenue from the subsequent influx of Russian tourists would be 10 times that amount. In January, 30 per cent less visas were issued to Russians. In February, the number was 50 per cent.

390. World Bank-funded motorway tenders to be launched by 2010

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-17

By the end of 2009, all tenders financed under the World Bank assistance programme will be launched. The first of the projects scheduled for construction has been designated as lot eight, or the lot of the southwest sector comprising the section Gotse Delchev and the village of Pirin, at a total length of 33 km, Stroitelstvo Gradut reports.

The total length of the aforementioned sections is 65 km. All tender documentations have been filed, pending approval, with the launch date being designated as April.

The second part of lot eight is the segment of motorway stretching from the town of Petrich to Kulata, on the border with Greece, 31.4 km in length.

World Bank funding has covered 75 per cent of the project's total cost. The evaluation commission is currently performing a selection process to determine the candidates for the construction of lots four, Sofia Pirdop and lot six Shoumen Preslav. In both of those tenders a Bulgarian company, Putinvest Engineering AD, has offered the lowest bid.

Furthermore, lots five and nine are to commence construction, with lot five consisting of the south-central sector of Pirdop Karlovo Kalofer, 22 km in length and the 16.5km section from Chirpan to Filevo.

The construction will also see the installation of a bridge over the Maritza river near Filevo. Lot nine is the new group of projects for the section of motorway between Bourgas Malko Turnovo.

Currently five tenders have been launched by the programme, three of them being subcontractors which were awarded the work and are subsequently waiting to start construction. Two more lots are undergoing selection for a construction company.

389. Bulgaria real estate prices increased by 2.2 per cent in real terms in 2008

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-05

Bulgaria is one of a handful of countries across the globe to see its property prices rise amid the economic meltdown last year, according to the annual report by Global Property Guide, which gauges 32 property markets in the world.

Real estate prices in Bulgaria increased by a nominal 11.72 per cent, or 2.2 per cent adjusted to the annual inflation rate, ranking the country fourth after the UAE, China and Switzerland.

But the modest increase pales in comparison with figures from the previous year, when prices surged 11.7 per cent.

The downtrend held in the final months of the year, with prices falling 5.3 per cent quarter-on-quarter in October to December, according to the research.

Property prices crumbled a record 37 per cent in Latvia and more than 20 per cent in Lithuania and the US. The United Kingdom, Iceland, Ukraine and Ireland saw prices slide by more than 12 per cent year-on-year. Only Germany and Switzerland managed to curb the slowdown.

Global Property Guide is downbeat about 2009 as well, citing concerns that mortgage lending will continue to thin out and economies will slow further all over the world. Yet another bottleneck are decisions by some governments to devaluate their currencies, which increases the cost of payment of properties sold mostly in euro and US dollars.

Forecasts that the global economy is headed for a 60-year low at 0.5 per cent in 2009 are another nail in the property markets coffin, according to the analysts.

388. Bulgarian banks start year with profit

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-04

The Bulgarian banking sector posted a profit of 73 million leva in January as its peers across the world continued turning in grim performances. Still, the profit of local lenders is 35 per cent lower than in 2008, according to data from the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB).

The banking system's assets surged 21.1 per cent to 69.02 billion leva over the past 12 months. Household and corporate made up 49.5 billion leva of that figure, an increase of 30.4 per cent on the year.

Deposits topped 60.1 billion leva, up 20.3 per cent.

Compared to December 2008, however, assets and deposits slumped, even though loans and capital increased.

Assets shrank by 540.6 million leva and deposits were down 794.2 million leva. Corporate deposits fell 616.6 million leva as firms pulled out their money to bolster their cashflow in the face of the credit crunch.

In January, households poured 339.7 million leva into new deposits, lured by highed interest rates from banks fighting for financing from the domestic market.

Household deposits grew for a second successive month, following withdrawals in October and November.

Total loan portfolios expanded both on the month and on the year, but household loans dropped by 15.15 million leva. Business loans, on the other hand, rose by 261.4 million leva.

387. Bulgaria celebrates the 131 anniversary of its liberation!

News BG: 2009-03-03

3 March is Bulgaria's National Holiday, which commemorates Bulgaria's liberation from the Ottoman Rule.

An official ceremony of hoisting the Bulgarian flag under the sound of the national anthem was held in front of the Monument of the Unknown Soldier.

President Georgi Parvanov was also present to lay a wraith in front of the Eternal Fire Monument.

He is to pronounce a speech in honor of all those who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Bulgaria. The ceremony which will be followed by a tattoo starts tonight at 6.30 p.m.

The president and his wife will be then hosts to the official reception, held annualy in the president's residence Boyana.

The national holiday will also be officially celebrated on the Shipka Peak, which was one of teh key points, at which decisive Ottoman-Russian battles took place.

On March 3, 1878 , the Peace Treaty of San Stefano was signed. The Peace Treaty of San Stefano marks the revival of the Bulgarian State, submerged under Ottoman rule since the end of 14th century. However, the actual live of independent Bulgaria started after the Berlin Congress, which took place a couple of months later in 1878.

386. Lindsey Vonn wins the super-G race in Bansko

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-02

World Cup holder and this season's leader both in the downhill and overall standings, American Lindsey Vonn won the women's world cups super-giant slalom race held in Bulgarias best winter resort of Bansko in Pirin mountain on March 1 2009.

Von won on Banskos Banderitsa ski run with a time of 1:14:49 minutes time with the Swiss Fabienne Suter coming second with 58 seconds behind Vonn. Third was Slovenias Tina Maze, 91 seconds behind Vonn.

"It was a great race," Vonn told Bulgarian National Television after the race. "I had a lot of fun".

"The ski run was very good. I like it here in Bansko where the atmosphere is great. I hope I will return to Bulgaria soon," she said.

Bulgarias only representative in the world cup this year, Maria Kirkova, finished 39th with a time of 1:22:10 minutes, 7.61 seconds behind Vonn.

It was the slowest time of all skiers but Kirokva managed to win the applause of the several thousand spectators who cheered her for competing with the best. Bulgaria has never had an athlete competing in the womens world cup events, which was what made Kirkovas achievement so valuable for Bulgaria.

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