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Bulgaria: Police Protect Farmers From Extortionists

Sofia, 15 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgaria's Agriculture Minister Venceslav Varbanov says roads throughout the country are under police control in an effort to stop criminal groups from extorting farmers trying to sell their grain harvests this week.

Our correspondent in Sofia quotes Prime Minister Ivan Kostov as saying that he will not allow a repeat of the nationwide bread shortages that occurred last year and early this year. Kostov is urging farmers not to fear racketeers who try to intimidate them into selling their harvests below the market price. Kostov also promised to take steps against illegal grain exports.

Former Prime Minister Zhan Videnov and several of his Socialist ministers are under investigation in Sofia for granting special grain export rights to their associates in 1995 and 1996. The Videnov government's favoritism of a handful of private agrocultural firms is considered a key reason for the earlier grain shortages.

Bulgarian farmers have told RFE/RL that they prefer to leave their fields fallow rather than have the profits from their labor and investment siphoned off by nomenklatura firms.