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Bulgaria: Fuel Prices Increase; Wheat Reserve Down To 20 Days

Sofia, 17 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Bulgaria's interim Cabinet today announced that fuel prices would rise to more than triple the current levels. Before the announcement, interim Prime Minister Stefan Sofiansky spoke of the necessity of "drastic" price rises as the only way to help stabilize the country's economic situation.

The price increases come as public transport and road traffic in Bulgaria is largely paralyzed today due to the widespread shortage of diesel fuel and petrol. Export of fuels has been banned in an effort to ease the shortages.

After today's Cabinet meeting, interim Agriculture Minister Roumen Hristov announced that Bulgaria only has a 20-day reserve of wheat. Hristov suggested that emergency wheat imports could raise the price of bread by five-to-six times the current cost.

The former Socialist government is widely blamed for Bulgaria's grain shortage, after companies with close ties to the government were permitted to export much of the country's grain harvest.

Our Sofia correspondent reports long lines of people in many towns waiting to buy what bread is available, and there have been some reports of bread-shortage-related disturbances.

People in Sofia and other cities waited hours yesterday to buy bread before an announced price increase takes effect. The prices of electricity and coal were raised 35 percent over the weekend. Bus services throughout the country have been reduced to save fuel.

Sofiansky says immediate measures will be taken to prevent the export of state-subsidized fuels. Special border troops have begun close checks to stop the export of fuels, food and other so-called national resources. Orders have also been issued to prevent ministers of the former Socialist government from leaving the country.