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Bulgaria: EU To Grant Emergency Aid

Brussels, 4 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union Commission says it will grant $1.26 million in emergency aid to Bulgaria to help overcome a shortage of food and medical material.

The commission said the aid is designed to help fill serious gaps in the country's hospital sector. It said the constant rise in the amount of imported pharmaceutical products is a heavy burden on the budget of the hospitals.

It said the Bulgarian government, which has been intervening to cover the debts in this sector, is no longer in a position to do so.

Prices in Bulgaria rose by 44 percent in January, while the overall inflation rate stood at 310 percent at the end of last year.

Bulgaria's caretaker government is now in the process of negotiating loan agreements with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the EU. The EU has already approved an aid plan totaling $23 million.

Meanwhile, in Sofia, Bulgaria's Central Election Commission today began registering parties for general elections called by the caretaker government for April 19.

State-run radio said many parties had come forward to register for the poll. All Bulgaria's 205 listed parties are eligible to compete but observers expect only around 60 of them to exercise the right.

Opinion polls indicate the opposition anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) has the best victory chance and some UDF politicians are already talking of the party gaining an absolute majority.

Bulgaria has invited international observers of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the polls.

The interim government was sworn in last month and provisions made for early elections after a decree from President Petar Stoyanov. This was part of efforts to alleviate the country's severe financial and food crisis.