Pilots Balkan Airlines end strike

SOFIA, May 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Pilots of Bulgaria's Balkan Airlines ended a strike on Thursday that had grounded all flights of the country's national carrier for nine days.

Flights were due to resume around 1300 GMT with a departure for Paris, company officials told reporters.

A full flight schedule will be restored on Friday.

The pilots had been demanding higher wages and job security. According to an agreement reached with management, a joint working group will propose pay rises by September 30 in line with the airline's revenues.

Breakthrough was reached after several hours of talks on Thursday following a seven-hour meeting of pilots and management with the ministers of transport, finance and labor and trade unions late on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said on Wednesday that lengthy negotiations would threaten Bulgaria's economy as the summer tourist season approaches and warned both sides that if they failed to reach an agreement the airline could be liquidated.

Israel's Zeevi Group, which bought a 75 percent stake in Balkan last June for $150,000, said they had 500,000 bookings by tourists to fly to Bulgaria this summer.

Zeevi, who pledged to invest $100 million over five years and to pay the company's inherited debts of $100 million, estimated their losses from the stoppage at $1 million a day.

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