GeriGündem Bulgaria reshuffles government amid corruption scandal
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Bulgaria reshuffles government amid corruption scandal

Bulgaria’s ruling coalition on Tuesday agreed to a reshuffle of key ministerial posts, the government said, following a corruption scandal that prompted sharp criticism by the EU.

"The government coalition unilaterally approved Tuesday structural and personal changes in the government aiming to guarantee the successful completion of the governments programme by the end of its term," it said in a statement.


The coalition nominated new ministers of the interior, defense, farming and healthcare and proposed to appoint a new deputy prime minister without portfolio to oversee the management of funds from the European Union, it said.


The reshuffle follows last weeks resignation of Interior Minister Rumen Petkov in a corruption scandal that revealed links between top crime-busters and criminals under investigation, and after two high-profile killings in Sofia that prompted the European Union to call for "urgent action."


Petkov will be replaced by Socialist parliamentary group chairman Mihail Mikov, the statement by the government information service said.


Bulgaria's ambassador to Germany, Meglena Plugchieva, will be appointed to the new deputy prime minister post to oversee the use of funds from the EU, which Bulgaria joined last year, it added.


Plugchieva's appointment comes after vehement criticism by Brussels of Bulgaria’s poor management of EU money and the recent freezing of at least 450 million euros (717 million dollars) in pre-accession subsidy payments still due to the EU newcomer.


Farming Minister Nihat Kabil, who came under fire for failing to prevent the misuse of European money, will be replaced by expert Valeri Tsvetanov.


Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov, blamed for a failure to push forward the reform and modernization of the army, will be replaced by defense ministry executive Nikolay Tsonev.


Lagging reforms in the healthcare sector also prompted the replacement of Health Minister Radoslav Gaydarski whose ministerial seat will be taken by Evgeniy Zhelev, currently head of the government Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, the statement added.


The changes were negotiated Tuesday by the leaders of the three coalition parties – Stanishev’s Socialists, the centrist National Movement for Stability and Progress (NMSP) and the Turkish minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms party (MRF). They kept the current distribution of ministerial seats among their parties: eight for the Socialists, five for the NMSP, and three for the MRF.


The government statement said the changes will be voted Thursday in the 240-seat parliament where the ruling coalition has a 150-strong majority.


It was the second reshuffle of Stanishev’s cabinet, just 14 months before the end of its term in office. The corruption allegations sent the coaliton’s public approval ratings plummeting.


A recent poll by the MBMD institute showed that 80 percent of Bulgarians were convinced of links between top government officials and the underworld. Another poll by the Gallup institute revealed a sharp fall in public support for the Socialists, with 71 percent of people saying they no longer trusted the party.

Address his party Tuesday, Socialist Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev admitted that the scandal in the interior ministry "has shaken public trust" in the government and coalition. "We have to guarantee security for the people and combat organized crime and corruption. The cat’s task is to catch mice," Stanishev said.


Bulgaria is still under pressure from Brussels to improve the functioning of its judiciary, curb high-level corruption and organized crime, and put an end to a score of mafia-style killings. Failure to do so could trigger a further freezing of EU funding.


"Bulgaria has discredited itself in Europe with the recent series of scandals... Restoring its reputation will take time," Bulgarias European Commissioner Meglena Kuneva recently told Trud daily newspaper.

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