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.
The populist Law and Justice (PiS) government pushed through controversial changes to Poland's constitutional court's decision-making rules soon after sweeping to power a year ago.
High Court in Belfast rejects Brexit legal challenges, saying lawmakers do not need to approve Article 50 before leaving EU
Ahead of Sunday's referendum on a new and contested draft constitution in Ivory Coast, here are some key dates since a deadly post-electoral crisis there in 2010
Suspect allegedly stabs police officer outside embassy before he gets gunned down
The Oct. 30 ballot is the first time Moldovans will elect a president by popular vote in 20 years
Police in North Dakota have made 117 arrests and have also used pepper spray on activists, who have been refusing to back down over the disputed oil pipeline
Operations command claims hundreds of extremists killed since start of offensive to retake Mosul on Oct. 17
Senior Bosnian and Iranian officials have said that they will fight terrorism while also vowing to boost trade between the two countries.
Hainan Airlines has wiped of Israel off their maps, marking the region as Palestinian Territories
A hostage dispute has been postponed until ELN release hostages
Trial to probe if Franco-Syrian father and son were tortured in prison in 2013 under the Damascus-based regime
EU leaders agreed last week to increase sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, citing devastating attacks on Syria's second city of Aleppo.
"I strongly believe it is absolutely possible to strengthen European defence without duplicating efforts by NATO," alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said.
12 people were killed Tuesday after al-Shabaab militants carried out attack in Mandera near Kenyan-Somali border
Head of Kurdish Regional Government says ‘only Iraqi counter-terrorism forces’ will enter Mosul once ISIL is defeated
25 militants killed in western Anbar province while another 5 are killed near Kirkuk, local military sources say