SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s main economic mentor, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said yesterday it remained upbeat on the EU aspirant’s economic prospects but urged the government not to slow down reforms ahead of local elections. The IMF also wants Sofia to maintain tight fiscal policy and speed up major sell-offs, IMF resident representative to Sofia Piritta Sorsa said. Painful economic reforms prescribed by the lender, which has played a decisive role in the economic decision-making in the small Balkan state over the past decade, have yielded strong economic growth. However the popularity of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg’s government has plunged because it has, so far, failed to translate into higher living standards. «They should not slow down reforms,» Sorsa told reporters. «Of course, there is that risk for the political situation but it is important to continue reforms.» Sorsa said a delay in privatizations is affecting foreign investment levels and the overall business environment. Legal battles prevented Bulgaria from privatizing state tobacco monopoly Bulgartabak and telecom operator BTC last year, dealing a serious blow to the government’s hopes of earning much-needed foreign cash. The state team of young Western-educated reformers has vowed to seal the deals in 2003. Sorsa said the IMF was pleased with Bulgaria’s macroeconomic performance and reiterated the Fund’s forecast that, barring a major crisis, Bulgaria could post a growth at 5 percent this year. Sofia’s 2003 growth target is 4.8 percent. In January, Saxe-Coburg said Bulgaria, which hopes to join the European Union later this decade, overcame a global economic slowdown and posted 4.5 percent GDP growth last year, exceeding a target of 4.2 percent.