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Bulgaria: Government Offers 15 Major Companies For Sale

Sofia, 23 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- In what is being called its boldest move to privatize the economy since the collapse of communism, Bulgaria put 15 major state-owned firms up for sale today.

Socialist Prime Minister Zhan Videnov's government hopes to sell off all of the firms by the end of the year and earn about $1 billion, said state television.

The list of enterprises up for sale was approved by the cabinet at a meeting late yesterday, said Krasimir Raidovsk, chief of the government press office. The list is said to include seven major chemical works, two metallurgic plants, two shipyards and four engineering companies.

Among the firms for sale are the country's largest copper smelter near Pirdop, 100 kilometers east of Sofia, and Bulgaria's largest engineering company, Balkancar Holding.

The move comes amid severe financial pressure. The Bulgarian government is covering the losses of state enterprises and banks -- and those losses are pushing the economy towards hyper-inflation.

Sofia last week announced that all state-owned banks except Bulbank are to be offered for privatization. That announcement was followed by reports today that at least six Bulgarian banks are on the verge of collapse.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also has delayed disbursing a vital loan, citing the slow pace of economic restructuring and the fragility of Bulgaria's banking system. The IMF and World Bank are scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss Bulgaria's banking crisis.