Bulgaria PM sacks 3 ministers

Bulgaria's PM Sergei Stanishev sacked three cabinet ministers on Tuesday to avert the threatened loss of millions in European Union aid over Sofia's failure to tame rampant corruption and crime.

Bulgaria PM sacks 3 ministers
The EU newcomer is under strong pressure at home and from Brussels to urgently show tangible results in fighting graft and organised crime ahead of a key EU report this summer that could recommend sanctions against Sofia.

Stanishev dismissed Agriculture Minister Nihat Kabil, Health Minister Radoslav Gaidarski and Defence Minister Veselin Bliznakov, the government's press office said.

The Socialist prime minister also appointed a vice premier to oversee and control all EU aid after Brussels froze some pre-accession farm and roads funds over suspicions of fraud.

Meglena Plugchieva, Bulgaria's ambassador to Germany, will be in charge of the 11 billion euros in EU funds earmarked for Sofia for 2007-2013, the statement said.

Stanishev said the reshuffle was needed to boost the government's plunging poll ratings ahead of 2009 elections but admitted that a facelift alone would not restore its standing.

"The interior ministry scandal ... weakened trust not only in the ministry but in the government and the ruling coalition," Stanishev told a gathering of his party.

"Politically it is right and necessary to make serious cabinet changes. But this does not solve the underlying problems," he said. "We need to find solutions at a high level."

The country's image suffered a severe blow when senior police officials were arrested last month and accused of passing secrets to criminal gangs. Two prominent Bulgarians were assassinated shortly afterwards.

Interior Minister Rumen Petkov quit earlier this month over his failure to rid his scandal-tainted ministry of corrupt officials but obsevers had said his resignation was not enough to clean up the Balkan country's image.

Diplomats and analysts say the root of the problem lies in links between politicians and magistrates and criminal groups, some of which sprang from the former Soviet secret services.

Sofia has not so far shown the political will to cut those ties and clamp down on graft and crime, which cost the poorest EU nation over 1 billion euros a year, surveys show.

EU diplomats say Brussels wants to see corrupt officials and criminals prosecuted and eventually convicted ahead of a July assessment report on Bulgaria's progress.

Stanishev appointed Michail Mikov, chairman of the Socialist parliamentary group, as interior minister to replace Petkov, a powerful member of the party.

Valeri Tsvetanov of the ethnic Turkish MRF party, a junior coalition partner in the government, will be the new agriculture minister. Nikolai Tsonev of NMS will become defence minister and Socialist Evgeni Zhelev will be health minister.

Parliament, where the ruling coalition has an overwhelming majority, is due to approve the cabinet reshuffle on Thursday.


Reuters
Last Mod: 22 Nisan 2008, 18:08
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