Agreement on Bulgarian budget by gov’t partners

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s main ruling party and its junior coalition partner have bridged differences on the 2004 draft budget, averting a possible government collapse, officials said yesterday. Last week, the ethnic Turks’ MRF party, on which the government of ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg depends for its slim parliamentary majority, threatened to vote against the 2004 draft budget unless Finance Minister Milen Velchev agreed not to cut agriculture subsidies. A parliamentary rejection of the 2004 draft budget would deal a severe blow to the government and might even cause its collapse, local commentators have said. Most of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turks, who account for 10 percent of the Balkan country’s population of 8 million, make a living by farming and local analysts say the MRF could not afford to disappoint its voters ahead of 2005 general elections. MRF leaders agreed at a meeting with Saxe-Coburg and Velchev late on Monday that agriculture subsidies would be cut by 15 million levs ($9.43 million), instead of the initially planned 25 million. In return, Velchev pledged that once a budget surplus occurred next year he would raise subsidies.