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Bulgaria begins work on Serbia gas link, sees operations by year-end

GOLYANOVTSI, Bulgaria (Reuters) - Bulgaria began construction on Wednesday of a long-delayed natural gas link with neighbouring Serbia that will allow flows of non-Russian gas to Belgrade and boost the security of supplies in southeastern Europe.

After Russia cut gas supplies to Europe in the wake of the war in Ukraine, European countries have been looking for alternative suppliers and have been pursuing energy cooperation more actively.

The 170-kilometre (106 mile) gas pipeline, which will run from the Bulgarian town of Novi Iskar to Nis in Serbia, is expected to be operational by the end of the year, Bulgarian Energy Minister Rossen Hristov said.

Bulgaria, which has been considering the project since 2012, plans to have the 62-km stretch on its territory ready by the end of October. Serbia, which began construction last February, will also have its portion ready by autumn, officials said.

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"This project gives new opportunities to the region for genuine diversification and security of supplies," Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said at the opening ceremony, which was also attended by Serbian President Alexander Vucic.

"We are getting expanded access to European markets... Serbia is getting access to new sources of gas, coming from the Southern gas corridor and the terminals for liquefied natural gas in the Aegean Sea," he said.

At present, the only gas link between the two countries transports Russian gas from the TurkStream gas pipeline to Serbia.

The new pipeline, partially financed with European Union aid, will grant Serbia access to non-Russian supplies from the Southern gas corridor and liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals in Greece and Turkey.

The pipeline, which will allow gas to flow in both directions, will diversify routes linking Bulgaria to the European gas network.

Bulgaria, which was cut off from Russian gas imports last April, has opened a new gas interconnector link with Greece that currently transports 1 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Azeri gas per year. Sofia has also sealed a long-term capacity deal with Turkey to import LNG.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Sharon Singleton)