(Reuters) - European Union newcomer Bulgaria votes for the first time on Sunday to elect 18 deputies to the European Parliament. Bulgaria joined the bloc at the beginning of 2007.
Bulgaria has claimed fame as the birthplace of yoghurt, made from milk fermented with the bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus. It is also the world’s second leading producer after Turkey of rose oil, which leading design houses use in perfumes.
Here are some key facts about the mountainous Black Sea state:
GEOGRAPHY: The area is 110,994 sq km (42,855 sq miles). Bulgaria is bordered to the north by Romania, to the east by the Black Sea, to the south by Turkey and Greece, to the west by Serbia and Macedonia.
POPULATION: 7.8 million - 83.9 percent ethnic Bulgarians, 9.4 percent ethnic Turks, 4.7 Roma gypsies and 2.0 others.
RELIGION: Eastern Orthodoxy is practiced by 83 percent of Bulgarians, while 12 percent are Muslims.
LANGUAGE: The official language is Bulgarian.
CAPITAL: Sofia. Population 1.2 million.
ECONOMY: With economic output at a third of the EU average and monthly income of 200 euros, Bulgaria is the poorest EU member. But changes are afoot. The country is attracting record foreign investment and boasts a blossoming tourism industry on its Black Sea beaches and high mountain resorts.
It has posted booming economic growth of above 6 percent since 2004. Its main headache is a wide current account deficit expected to reach a record 17 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year.
Sofia also hopes to join the ERM-2, the two year obligatory waiting room for euro hopefuls, curb inflation and adopt the single currency early next decade.
SOME HISTORY: Established in 681, Bulgaria spent half of the last millennium as part of the Ottoman Empire. It became an independent constitutional monarchy in 1908. Sofia was a Nazi ally in World War Two but switched sides.
The communists took power in 1944 and ruled until November 10, 1989, when top communist officials ousted Soviet-backed dictator Todor Zhivkov and restored democratic rule.
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