New Danube bridge priority for Balkan Pact

SOFIA, Feb 26, 2000 -- (Reuters) The construction of a new Danube bridge linking Bulgaria and Romania will be a top priority when international donors meet in March, Bulgaria said on Friday.

The coordinator of the international Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, Bodo Hombach, had told Finance Minister Muravei Radev by telephone that he had included the bridge in a list of projects to be started immediately, a statement said.

Hombach will present the list to a donors' conference on March 29 in Brussels. The pact was launched last year by major powers in a bid to restore the Balkans after a decade of wars.

Bulgaria and Romania, which formally started talks on EU membership earlier this month, agreed to build the bridge on February 7 after years of disagreement over its location.

It will span the Danube, a natural border between the nations, near the Bulgarian town of Vidin, close to the border with Yugoslavia. The $176 million project is expected to be financed under the stability pact.

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Petko Tabakov said construction work could start next year and may be completed in 2003. The bridge will have two motorway lanes and one rail track in each direction.

It will be part of an EU-defined transport corridor, stretching from the German town of Dresden and forking in two before ending in Thessaloniki, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey.

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