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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.

385. Happy 1 st march

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-01

Martenitsa is a small piece of adornment, made of white and red yarn and worn from March 1st until the 22nd March (or the first time an individual sees a stork, swallow or budding tree). The name of the holiday is Baba Marta. "Baba" is the Bulgarian word for "grandmother" and Mart is the Bulgarian word for the month of March. Baba Marta is a Bulgarian tradition related to welcoming the upcoming spring. The month of March, according to Bulgarian folklore, marks the beginning of springtime. Therefore, the first day of March is a traditional holiday associated with sending off winter and welcoming spring.

The red and white woven threads are not just meaningless decoration, but symbolize the wish for good health. They are the heralds of the coming of spring in Bulgaria and life in general. While white as a color symbolizes purity and soul, red is a symbol of life and passion, thus some ethnologists have proposed that in its very origins the custom might have reminded people of the constant cycle of life and death, the balance of good and bad, of sorrow and happiness in human life. Given as an amulet in the period of spring, when nature gets reborn and starts blossoming again it was not only a reminder of that balance but also a wish for health, strength and happiness.

384. Wizz Air to fly from Sofia to Basel, Kiev and Tunisia

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-27

Wizz Air Bulgaria Airlines, the local unit of the Hungarian budget airline, was cleared to launch regular routes from Bulgaria to Switzerland, Ukraine and Tunisia.

The carrier will fly from Sofia to Kiev, Tunisia and Basel three times a week by Airbus A 320 airliners seating 180 passengers.

The Sofia - Zurich destination has so far been operated by Bulgaria Air, and Swiss Air and Flybaboo, running 14 flights a week.

No regular routes between Bulgaria and Tunisia are serviced at the moment. From Sofia, Wizz Air has been appointed to fly to Germany, Greece, Turkey, Moldova and Russia.

383. Lidl secures plot for supermarket in Pleven

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-26

German discount chain Lidl will begin construction on an outlet in the northern Bulgarian town of Pleven in spring after purchasing 4540 sq m plot in the Pleven borough of Storgozia for 1.5 million leva, Stroitelstvo Gradut weekly reported.

Adding the land to the adjacent plot, already owned by the retailer, would allow Lidl to build a large store and a parking lot spreading over one hectare.

Lidl owns another plot in the town, where it plans to build the second outlet, next to a Tehnopolis store.

Lidl Bulgaria is the local subsidiary of the Lidl discount chain, which claims to operate more than 8000 stores in 24 countries. Lidl itself is a unit of the same holding company that owns retailer Kaufland, which focuses on large hypermarkets. Kaufland is already on the Bulgarian market, where it operates 19 stores.

"We regard Pleven as a town with very high potential, as there aren't many towns quite like that in Bulgaria," Lidl reciever Kamen Koumanov during the signing ceremony with

Pleven mayor Naiden Zelenogorski.

Despite initial plans to enter Bulgaria at the same time as Kaufland, in 2006, Lidl postponed its expansion and only started work on its first outlet, in the central Bulgarian town of Pazardjik, in 2008.

Once here, though, it plans to grow quickly. "Our investment strategy will not end here. We are planning to build a large logistical centre near Sofia, as well as expand our coverage of northern Bulgaria," Kamenov said, adding that the next targets were Vidin, Rousse, and Veliko Turnovo.

382. Tourist firms mull over cutting prices for Bulgarians

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-25

Discounts of 10 to 30 per cent for Bulgarian holidaymakers and preferential offers for public employees are some of the measures to jump-start the local tourist sector approved by the industry council on February 23 2009.

The moves are aimed at luring back Bulgarians who have spent their holidays abroad in recent years.

According to National Statistical Institute data, Bulgarians make six million foreign trips, about 30 per cent of them to Greece.

A similar campaign kicked off last year but the results have not been announced.

Tourism associations forged out common government aid demands that should help the sector survive the global economic downturn. They will seek subsidies for visas issued to Russian and Ukrainian tourists, a measure estimated at 16 million leva.

Bulgaria's closest rivals, Greece and Cyprus, have already taken such a step.

The sector will call for a further 40 million leva for a national advertising campaign targeting Russia, the CIS and the Balkan countries and the domestic market.

A further demand is legislative changes to set the value-added tax for all services in the sector at seven per cent. Currently, the preferential rate is only available to hotels that welcome organised groups. The tourism investors' union said they would seek a bigger reduction to five per cent.

The industry will also call for scrapping fees on charter flights and for being awarded an export sector status to borrow resources extended to commercial banks by the Bulgarian Development Bank.

The Government should allocate about 100 million leva for the tourism industry to provide operating cash for hoteliers and tour operators, according to the organisations.

Once refined, the proposals will be submitted to Deputy Prime Minister Ivailo Kalfin, who is responsible for the sector. On the recommendation of the tourism agency, the demands will come with a special control mechanism to ensure that state subsidies would lower the cost of tourist services.

The industry hopes the measures will be in place by the start of the summer season.

As holidaymakers tighten their belts and currency exchange rates jump up and down, Bulgaria's tourist companies face smaller winter season revenues and lop up to 50 per cent off summer pre-booking prices.

381. Tourism to seek 250M euro in state aid over two years

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-24

Bulgarias tourist companies will urge for cheaper third-country visas and tax breaks as part of a set of measures to shore up the sector trapped by the global economic and financial downturn.

The sector needed 250 million euro in Government aid in 2009-2010 to generate revenues of over 1.2 billion euro, the Bulgarian Tourist Chamber and the Bulgarian Association of Travel Agents estimated.

The companies are calling for around 16 million leva in state subsidies for visas for tourists coming from Russia and other non-European Union countries, following the example of Cyprus, Turkey and Greece, which all compete with Bulgaria for the same markets.

The industry also proposed that the visas should be issued upon arrival at the border checkpoint, a practice adopted in other countries, such as Egypt, for example.

In addition, the Union of Investors in Tourism will call on the Government to waive value-added tax on tourism services for 2009.

Another proposed measure is a lower fuel excise for chartered flights and setting a bottom concession fee for beaches with a view to cutting the prices paid by tourists to rent lounge chairs and umbrellas.

The chamber and the association will also seek subsidies to encourage foreigners to make long vacations in the low season, offering five euro for foreign tourists who have spent more than ten days in Bulgaria.

A further measure is the creation of a special fund with a capital of 100 million leva to give incentives to Bulgarian holidaymakers to choose local resorts. The state should contribute half of the fund, with the rest coming equally from resort and tourist fees, and businesses.

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