In Brief

Unemployment drops to its lowest point in the last 20 months Recorded unemployment figures continued their slide last month, falling to 459,442 people from 461,386 in May and from 487,378 in June 2004, the Labor Ministry announced yesterday. Last month’s figure is the lowest since September 2003. The annual 5.7 percent decline in the jobless rate is attributed to an upgrade of the Employment Promotion Centers (KPA) and local agencies of the Manpower Organization (OAED), and comes closer to the target of reducing the ratio of the unemployed to the entire work force by one percentage point by the end of the year, as pledged. Fuel market registered small sales decline in Q1 The domestic fuel market recorded marginal losses in the year’s first quarter, a survey by Stat Bank has found. The 3.1 percent annual decline is blamed on the drop by 4.9 percent and 4.8 percent in the sale of heating oil and diesel respectively. Oil products companies saw their sales drop from 3.5 million tons in January-March 2004 to 3.4 million tons over the same quarter this year, although gasoline posted a small (2.4 percent) rise in sales. EKO, BP and Shell continue to lead the market, albeit with reduced shares, while Shell’s profits posted a massive decline, falling by more than 80 percent in Q1, dropping behind the other two market leaders. Relief grant The World Bank announced yesterday it has granted Romania $33 million (27 million euros) in relief funding to repair infrastructure damaged by the worst floods in the country in 30 years. The money comes from its global emergency fund and was released after officials visited the flood-stricken northeast of the country, the bank said in a statement released in Bucharest. Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu yesterday said the government has allocated more than 42 million euros to rebuild infrastructure and 50 million euros to repair damaged railway lines. The flooding killed 24 people, according to the latest toll released yesterday. It destroyed 2,300 homes and damaged 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) of road and 560 bridges. Transport Minister Gheorghe Dobre said it would take «at least a year and a half» to rebuild all damaged infrastructure. Some 20 communities in the northeast remain cut off from the rest of the country and several hundred households are still without electricity, according to the Interior Ministry. (AFP) Trade deficit up Bulgaria’s foreign trade deficit grew to 5.3 billion leva (2.7 billion euros or $3.38 billion) last year with the European Union remaining the country’s top trade partner, the National Statistics Institute reported yesterday. Bulgarian exports stood at 15.62 billion leva (7.98 billion euros or $9.63 billion) in 2004, compared to 13.04 billion leva (6.67 billion euros or $8.04 billion) in 2003. Imports were also up last year, reaching 20.95 billion leva (10.7 billion or $13.26 billion), the institute said in a statement. The 25 European Union countries accounted for most of Bulgaria’s foreign trade in 2004, with exports to the Union reaching 9.1 billion leva (4.65 billion euros), and imports reaching 12.3 billion leva (6.92 billion euros). (AP)

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