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SOFIA: Bulgaria decided on Friday to send about 100 armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine in the Balkan country's first shipment of heavy equipment to Kyiv.

Parliament approved -- with 148 votes in favour and 52 against -- a proposal of the new pro-European government to send the vehicles along with armaments and spare parts.

The government bought various models of Soviet-made BTR carriers in the 1980s but they were never used.

"This equipment is no longer necessary for the needs of Bulgaria, and it can be of serious support to Ukraine in its battle to preserve the country's independence and territorial integrity after the unjustified and unprovoked Russian aggression," parliament said in its decision.

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EU and NATO member Bulgaria has in stock large quantities of Soviet-style weapons coveted by Ukraine and also produces ammunition for them.

But the country remains historically and culturally very close to Moscow and has been deeply divided over the issue of sending aid to Ukraine.

The leader of the pro-Russian Vazrazhdane party Kostadin Kostadinov called Friday's decision "treacherous and disgraceful" and the Socialist BSP party was also strongly against.

So far Bulgaria has only sent one military aid package to Kyiv, containing mostly flak jackets and helmets.

The pro-EU government that took office in early-June is now preparing a second package, reportedly including shells and arms, though it has not confirmed these details.

The country's arms industry -- a major manufacturer of Soviet-style light arms and ammunition -- has boomed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

But factories only sold arms to Kyiv through intermediary countries, a solution found at the start of the war by then-prime minister Kiril Petkov and praised by Ukraine.

Since Petkov's toppling in mid-2022, Bulgaria was ruled by interim cabinets appointed by pro-Russian President Rumen Radev that were against direct arms sales to Ukraine.

But Defence Minister Todor Tagarev recently said he was in favour of reversing this policy and starting direct arms sales to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Sofia earlier this month to appeal for support.

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