July 26, 2019 / 10:03 AM / 24 days ago

Bulgaria parliament overturns presidential veto on F-16s deal

FILE PHOTO: Bulgarian President Rumen Radev attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian lawmakers overturned on Friday the presidential veto of a deal to purchase eight Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets from United States, clearing the way for Bulgaria’s biggest military purchase since the fall of Communism.

On Monday President Rumen Radev vetoed a decision by parliament to approve the $1.26 billion deal, describing a lack of consensus on the contracts as “extremely worrying”.

The Black Sea state, a staunch Washington ally, is looking to replace its ageing Soviet-made MiG-29 aircraft after 2023 and improve its compliance with NATO standards.

Bulgaria’s government agreed the deal with the United States two weeks ago, following a long-running saga that has seen a succession of Bulgarian governments fail to make a decision on which warplane to pick.

The motion to overrule the veto was passed on Friday by 128 votes in the 240-seat parliament, bringing together lawmakers from the ruling centre-right GERB party, two allies in the nationalist United Patriots formation and opposition deputies from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

The Socialists, nationalist Attack party and small populist party Volya voted against.

“Тhe veto of the president is unnecessary and unreasonable,” Konstantin Popov, chair of parliamentary defence committee, told lawmakers. “It has clearly been proven that the motives are absolutely insubstantial.”

In 2017, an interim government selected the Gripen built by Sweden’s Saab but the deal was later cancelled and a new procedure was launched a year later.

Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union three years later.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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