Balkans shivers without heating, factories shut down

Around 100,000 households in Bosnia were left in cold while least 65,000 households were without central heating in Bulgaria.

Balkans shivers without heating, factories shut down

Hundreds of thousands of people across the Balkans went without heating on Thursday and more factories closed as the impact on the hardest-hit region in the Russia-Ukraine gas row continued to grow.

Around 100,000 households in Bosnia were left in cold, about 80,000 people in Serbia's second largest city Novi Sad had their gas heating cut off and other Serbian cities were hit.

In Bulgaria, at least 65,000 households were without central heating when temperatures hit minus 10 degrees on Thursday morning. Some shops said they had run out of electric heaters, causing concern for electricity supplies.

"Electricity distribution will not survive another hike in consumption," CEZ power utility, which supplies western Bulgaria and the capital Sofia, said in a statement.

Supplies of electric heaters were also running short in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, where demand for wood and coal has increased five-fold.

Companies across central and eastern Europe were forced to close as Russian gas flows to the continent via Ukraine stopped completely on Wednesday.

Sofia cut gas supplies completely to 72 big industrial consumers and sharply lowered deliveries to another 153 big companies on Thursday due to limited domestic reserves. The government of the poorest European Union nation asked the EU for funds for new pipelines to ease its dependence on Russian gas.

An alumina plant in Bosnia, two Slovak car factories and a steel mill and a Hungarian car maker have had to shut as well.

In Macedonia, the country's largest steel exporter shut its doors and forced its roughly 1,000 workers to take vacation days. A pipe making factory also closed.

Bosnia's sole alumina plant Birac, majority owned by Lithuania's Ukio Bank Investment Group and located in the eastern town of Zvornik, halted production. The largest steel maker Arcelor Mittal Zenica, a unit of ArcelorMittal, partially suspended operations.

Bosnian car parts maker Famos said it may also halt production, and some schools closed.

Some countries without reserves

Heavy snow in Serbia, Bosnia and elsewhere held up the transport of alternative fuels or heating units. Most of the region suffered below zero Centigrade winter temperatures.

Countries including Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia dependent on Russian natural gas imports were left without back up supplies. Greece and Croatia had several weeks of supply and were exploring alternative sources of fuel, officials said.

Many Balkan countries have no alternative routes and rely almost entirely on Russian gas, which stopped flowing to Europe via Ukraine completely on Wednesday after dwindling since Jan 1.

The Bulgarian government said Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev had sought money from Brussels to help Bulgaria build a link to an existing Turkey-Greece pipeline, which would allow it to receive gas from the Caspian and the Middle East.

Dozens of kindergartens and 68 schools were closed and trams and buses in the capital Sofia switched off heat to save energy. Utilities said they needed another day to switch to alternative fuels before they can heat homes again.

Regional financial markets suffered and Serbia's dinar hit a record low. "There is a growing expectation that power and oil monopolies will have to step up imports due to the problems with gas and that the dinar will fall," a senior banker said.

Last Mod: 09 Ocak 2009, 10:58
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