June 14, 2012 / 5:40 PM / 7 years ago

Bulgaria ski development law sparks protest

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s parliament approved measures that will make it easier to build ski runs and ski lifts on state land, in an attempt to boost the ailing economy, but the decision sparked protests by environmental activists.

A protester is detained by police during a flash mob organised by environmental protesters in central Sofia June 14, 2012. REUTERS/Dimitar Kyosemarliev

Police detained nine activists after over 1,500 people blocked a major Sofia intersection late on Thursday for a second day in a row in a protest against the controversial changes.

Chanting “We want nature, not concrete” and “We want veto on the forests law” over 100 people while police tried to push them out of the road.

Ski resorts in the Rila, Pirin and Rhodopi mountains in the south of the Balkan country have flourished thanks to low prices compared with resorts in the Alps, while still offering good infrastructure and reliable snow.

The amendments to the forest law, passed on Wednesday, will allow developers to build ski runs and lifts in the state-owned forests and protected areas that cover much of the mountains without having to buy or rent the land, or pay hefty fees to change its official use.

Previously developers had to pay rent and fees and also acquire numerous permits from different agencies before they could build, a process that could take years.

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said the government was trying to improve skiing in Bulgaria to attract more tourists, while protesters claim it will only benefit few powerful ski developers.

The law change has raised concerns over damage to Bulgaria’s wilderness, which shelters animals such as bears and wolves, rare or non-existent in more developed parts of the continent.

“The controversial amendments...will lead to the plundering of the country’s last significant natural resource,” environmental group WWF said in a statement.

Activists called on President Rosen Plevneliev to veto the law to safeguard the forests and said they planned to continue protesting until the law was scrapped.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Pravin Char

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