- - Sunday, December 2, 2012

SOFIA — Here’s one way to boost an ailing economy: Bulgaria is offering citizenship to foreigners ready to invest at least $650,000.

Under a newly approved amendment, the candidates would have to invest in a Bulgarian company involved in a high-priority investment project in industry, infrastructure, transport or tourism.

The investors also are required to have had residence status in the country for at least one year.

Bulgaria, which joined the 27-nation European Union in 2007 and is the bloc’s poorest member, is trying to reverse the severe drop in foreign direct investment from $8.5 billion in 2008 to $2.3 billion in 2011.

Bulgaria already is handing out passports to ethnic Bulgarians outside its borders, the main beneficiaries being citizens of Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine and Turkey — countries with living standards at a fraction of the EU average that are years away from possible membership.

The latest amendments have been criticized harshly by the opposition, and it did not get unequivocal support from the presidency or the Justice Ministry, the two institutions that deal with the issue of granting citizenship.

According to media reports, the Interior Ministry and the security services also voiced concerns about potential risks to national security during a closed-door parliament committee meeting.

The political and economic instability in the Middle East following the Arab Spring revolutions could prompt wealthy citizens trying to escape the region’s troubles to qualify for the citizenship-by-investment program.


Center-left votes for premier candidate

ROME — Italy held a primary runoff Sunday for a center-left candidate to run as premier in next year’s election — an important ballot, given that Italy’s center-right camp is in utter disarray over whether former Premier Silvio Berlusconi will run again.

Sunday’s runoff pitted veteran Pier Luigi Bersani, 61, against the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, 37, who campaigned on an Obama-style “Let’s change Italy now” mantra and attracted many disgruntled Italians back to politics with his call to “scrap” the old political order.

Nearly all polls showed Mr. Bersani, leader of the main center-left Democratic Party, winning the primary, as he won the first round of balloting Nov. 25 with 44.9 percent of the vote to Mr. Renzi’s 35.5 percent.

Even before the polls closed Sunday, analysts were discussing the potential that Mr. Bersani could well be Italy’s next premier.


Finance boss: Debt-cutting slower than expected

LONDON — Britain’s Treasury chief acknowledged Sunday that the economy is taking longer than expected to recover from the financial crisis, but he insisted he will not waver from his policy of tax hikes and spending cuts.

George Osborne said the British government might miss its self-imposed goals of cutting debt as a share of national income by 2015-2016 and of balancing the current budget.

Mr. Osborne said he would introduce new tax measures for the rich on Wednesday, along with further moves to trim welfare spending.

The Conservative-led government is cutting $80 billion in spending through 2015 in a bid to slash the national debt, which stands at more than $1.6 trillion.

But critics say the government’s austerity policy has failed to kick-start the economy, which has been through two periods of recession since 2008.

“It is clearly taking longer to deal with Britain’s debts. It’s clearly taking longer to recover from the financial crisis than one would have hoped, but we have made real progress,” Mr. Osborne told BBC television.

He insisted that any change of course now “would be a complete disaster.”

Ahead of Mr. Osborne’s semi-annual statement, the Office for Budget Responsibility will announce financial figures expected to show higher borrowing and lower growth than previous estimates.


Iberia airline workers to strike before Christmas

MADRID — Labor unions representing most workers at Spain’s Iberia airline say they will stage six days of strikes right before the Christmas holiday season to protest the company’s plans to lay off 4,500 workers.

The stoppages by Iberia’s ground staff and cabin crews will be held Dec. 14 and Dec. 17 to 21.

Francisco Rodriguez of the General Workers Union, Spain’s largest union, said the strikes are to protest “the unnecessary layoffs of workers.”

The pilots’ union is not among the six unions backing the strike.

International Airlines Group, which groups together British Airways and Iberia, unveiled a plan to cut 23 percent of the Spanish company’s staff, saying the carrier was “in a fight for survival.”


Overthrow plotters had foreign help, investigators say

MOSCOW — Russia’s top investigative agency says it has proof of opposition supporters attending training abroad as part of foreign-backed plans to overthrow the government.

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said Friday that the agency had gathered new evidence confirming earlier allegations that leftist activists Sergey Udaltsov, Leonid Razvozzhayev, and Konstantin Lebedev had met with foreign officials to plot mass riots, inspired by the “color revolutions” that ousted authoritarian leaders in several ex-Soviet nations and rattled the Kremlin.

He said their supporters also attended special training abroad to prepare for “organizing and conducting mass riots with the purpose of overthrowing the government.”

President Vladimir Putin frequently has accused the unprecedented protest movement that sprung up against his rule last winter of being funded and directed from abroad.

Charges were filed against the activists in October after pro-Kremlin TV showed a documentary-style film alleging they met officials from Georgia in Minsk to plot violent disturbances across Russia.

They deny all charges.


1804 shipwreck treasure shown for the first time

MADRID — Spanish cultural officials allowed a first peek Friday at some of the 16 tons of shipwreck treasure worth an estimated $500 million that a U.S. salvage company gave up this year after a five-year ownership dispute.

Only a tiny portion of the haul from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a galleon that sank off Portugal’s Atlantic coast near the Strait of Gibraltar in 1804, was shown to the media — 12 silver coins, a block of encrusted silver coins stuck together after centuries underwater, two gold tobacco boxes and a bronze pulley.

Authorities who have been inventorying the treasure since it was flown from Florida to Spain in February said it will be transferred later this year from Madrid to the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in the Mediterranean city of Cartagena.

Displays are expected to start next year, with some items put on rotating temporary displays at museums across the country.

Though previous estimates have put the value of the treasure at $500 million, Spanish officials said they weren’t trying to determine an amount because the haul is part of the nation’s cultural heritage and can never be sold under Spanish law.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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