Thousands protest in Bulgaria as political uncertainty deepens

Mon, Mar 4, 2013, 00:00

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians furious over poverty and corruption protested in more than a dozen cities yesterday as a lack of clear support for any political party mired the country in limbo days after the government was toppled.

Prime minister Boiko Borisov quit along with his centre-right government last Wednesday after two weeks of sometimes violent protests. He remains in office until an interim government is appointed, most likely next week, which will take Bulgaria to elections due on May 12th.

However, Bulgarians are still struggling to unite behind a single political leader or give voice to a clear set of demands.

Polls suggest neither Borisovs rightist Gerb party nor the opposition Socialist Party has enough support for an overall majority, and whichever wins the election will have to try to form a working government.

Excluded

Thousands of people took to the streets of cities including the capital Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Blagoevgrad, Ruse and Sliven yesterday – a national holiday. In the biggest rally, about 50,000 protested in the Black Sea city of Varna.

“It is obvious that the protesters are not united and this could very quickly destroy the enthusiasm of the people,” said Georgi Trendafilov, a demonstrator in Sofia. Six years after joining the European Union, Bulgaria trails far behind other members. Its justice system is subject to special monitoring and it is excluded from the passport-free Schengen zone because of concerns about corruption.

The countrys public debt is one of the lowest in the EU but the business cartels, corruption and wages of less than half the EU average have kept many from feeling the benefit.

It also has the cheapest electricity costs in the EU but an increase in prices since last July under energy market liberalisation has made it even harder for Bulgarians to heat their homes through winter.

The demonstrations began with a handful of youngsters protesting against high electricity bills. Eventually, hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets, angered by their low living standards.

President Rosen Plevneliev said an interim government would aim for stability by sticking to the budget, which foresees a deficit of 1.3 per cent of GDP, and implementing commitments such as a 9 per cent pension increase from April.

He also said he would set up a 35-member public council to represent the peoples interests. But consultations for the establishment of the council collapsed on Saturday. – (Reuters)