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Monday, 27 March, 2000, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
New bridge over the Danube

After eight years of negotiaitions, Romania and Bulgaria have agreed on building a new bridge over the Danube.

It will be built under the Balkan stability pact, signed last summer by countries in the region and international financial institutions and designed to bring investment and stability to the Balkans.

Bodo Hombach, co-ordinator for the Balkan stability pact, and Romania's President, Emil Constantinescu, were present for the ceremony.

The 1,275 metre bridge, partly funded by the European Union, will connect the Bulgarian city of Vidin to the Romanian city of Calafat and will connect roads in the Balkans and Greece to Western Europe.

Big money

Total investment including the construction of new highways in Romania, could reach $1bn.

The bridge will cost some $120m, and its infrastructure - four traffic lanes and two railroads - an additional $35m.

Construction is expected to last about three years.

After signing the agreement, Bulgaria's Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said his country would fund the project with a loan of $180m.

Romania is not paying anything towards the bridge because it would have preferred the bridge to have been built further east.

The Danube River forms the common border between the two nations.

Romanian authorities believe the building work may help with severe social problems in depressed economic regions, with the building of new roads and rail networks.

Some 2,000 miners, 10% of those laid off in the southwest coal mining region in the Jiu Valley are to be employed in constructing the bridge.

The only existing bridge across the Danube between Romania and Bulgaria further east near the Bulgarian town of Ruse is a notorious transport bottleneck.

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