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Bulgaria: Employment, Food, Energy Woes Deepen

Sofia, 21 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Bulgarian reports say unemployment in Bulgaria reached more than 13 percent (13.4%) in January, the highest level since July 1994. And, experts say they fear unemployment could increase substantially this year after a currency board is introduced. The International Monetary Fund has proposed Bulgaria adopt the currency board, which would impose strict currency restriction, in an effort to stablize Bulgaria's financial situation.

Meanwhile, the country's bread shortage has worsened, with Sofia having only enough flour for five-to-six days. Caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Sofianski said wheat will be taken from the state's reserves to fill the gap.

Bulgaria has also stopped supplying Russian gas to 63 industrial plants that did not pay their bills for January and February. The current price covers only one-third of the cost of the gas, for which the Russians now demand full advance payment in hard currency.

Finally, the interim Cabinet set up a Structural Reform Council yesterday, to negotiate with the IMF and World Bank on reforms.