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06:45, 27 June 2017 Tuesday
Update: 17:51, 25 October 2012 Thursday

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Bulgarians to vote on new nuclear plant
Bulgarians to vote on new nuclear plant

The government earlier this year abandoned a 2,000-megawatt nuclear project at Belene, citing a lack of Western investors

World Bulletin/News Desk

Bulgarians will vote on whether to build a new nuclear power plant in the Balkan country's first referendum since the fall of communism in 1989, parliament ruled on Wednesday.

The government earlier this year abandoned a 2,000-megawatt nuclear project at Belene, citing a lack of Western investors. But Russian state firm Atomstroyexport, which had a contract to build the plant, last month demanded 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in compensation for the cancellation.

The opposition Socialists demanded a referendum to challenge the decision to drop the project, which cost the government popularity against a backdrop of rising electricity prices and high unemployment in the European Union's poorest country.

Parliament voted 106-7 in favour of a referendum.

But the centre-right government of Boiko Borisov amended the question to be posed in the plebiscite. It will now ask, "Should we develop nuclear energy in Bulgaria by building a new nuclear power plant?" and not mentioning Belene specifically.

The original question was: "Should we develop nuclear energy by building a new power plant at the Belene site?" The Socialists abstained from parliament's vote in protest at the change in wording.

"By changing the question Borisov is already losing support," said Andrey Raichev of pollster Gallup International. "But the referendum is not going to decide next year's elections."

The referendum may well prove invalid because of a tough turnout requirement of matching the number of voters in the last parliamentary elections, or about 4.25 million out of a population of 7.3 million.

"It is a complete nonsense to expect that we will have that many people showing up at any referendum," said political analyst with Sofia University Rumiana Kolarova.

Many Bulgarians had hoped the Belene plant would help to restrain electricity prices. Bulgaria already has one operational 2,000 megawatt nuclear plant on the Danube River at Kozloduy which provides cheap electricity.

The Socialists collected over 770,000 signatures for a referendum, well above the minimum half-million required.

They said Borisov's GERB party had used its strength in parliament to override a significant degree of popular support for the nuclear project.

The president now has a month to set a date for the vote, which is most likely to be held in January.

Support for GERB has fallen in opinion polls to 21.4 percent compared with 16.1 percent for the Socialists, according to the latest survey by independent pollster Alpha Research.

Even if GERB remains the largest party in next year's election, it would probably need to strike a coalition deal with other parties to stay in power.

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Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland
Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week. Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at the Alpine Crans-Montana ski resort Wednesday with "complete determination and goodwill... to achieve a desired solution", he said in a statement. He said he hopes to "abolish the anachronistic system of guarantees and intervention rights", with a deal providing for the withdrawal of the Turkish army. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus. The so-called guarantor powers of Turkey, Britain and Greece retain the right to intervene militarily on the island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at odds over a new security blueprint, but their leaders are under pressure to reach an elusive peace deal. "I am going to Switzerland to participate in the Cyprus conference, with the sole aim and intent of solving the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is also set to attend the summit, which is expected to last at least 10 days. Greece, Turkey and Britain will send envoys along with an observer from the European Union. UN-led talks on the island hit a wall in late May after the sides failed to agree terms to advance toward a final summit. Unlocking the security question would allow Anastasiades and Akinci to make unprecedented concessions on core issues. But they have major differences on what a new security blueprint should look like. Anastasiades's internationally recognised government, backed by Athens, seeks an agreement to abolish intervention rights, with Turkish troops withdrawing from the island on a specific timeline. Turkish Cypriots and Ankara argue for some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north. Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation. Much of the progress to date has been based on strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. But that goodwill has appeared frayed in the build-up to their meeting in Switzerland. The Greek Cypriot presidential election next February has also complicated the landscape, as has the government's search for offshore oil and gas, which Ankara argues should be suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.