Bulgaria govt resigns amid growing protests
SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s government resigned on Wednesday after violent nationwide protests against high electricity prices, joining a long list of European administrations felled by austerity after Europe’s debt crisis erupted in late 2009.
Many Bulgarians are deeply unhappy over high energy costs, power monopolies, low living standards and corruption in the European Union’s poorest country and protesters clashed again with police late on Tuesday.
An injured demonstrator shouts at riot police during a protest rally in Sofia, Bulgaria. EPA
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov speaks in the Parliament in Sofia, February 20. REUTERS
Tens of thousands of Bulgarians have rallied in cities across the country since Sunday in protests which have turned violent, chanting “Mafia” and “Resign”.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov had tried to calm protests by sacking his finance minister, pledging to cut power prices and punishing foreign-owned companies – risking a diplomatic row with EU partner the Czech Republic – but the measures failed to defuse discontent.
“I will not participate in a government under which police are beating people,” Borisov said as he announced his resignation on Wednesday. Parliament is expected to accept the resignation later in the day.
Borisov, a former bodyguard to communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, can now try to form a new government, using his rightist GERB party’s strong position in parliament. If he fails an election scheduled for July may be brought forward.
GERB’s popularity had held up well until late last year because austerity measures were relatively mild compared with many other European countries, with salaries and pensions frozen rather than cut. In the last opinion poll, taken before protests grew last weekend, the opposition Socialists were nearly tied with GERB.
A demonstrator throws a rock at riot police during clashes on the sidelines of a protest against the government in downtown Sofia. AFP
Many Bulgarians are feeling frustrated with unemployment hitting a 10-month high of 11.9 per cent and the average salary stuck at 800 levs (US$550) a month. Frustrations boiled over when heating bills rose during the winter.
Bulgaria raised the costs of electricity – politically sensitive since bills eat a huge part of modest incomes – by 13 per cent last July, but the real impact was not felt until households started using electrical power for heat in winter.
“The resignation is the only responsible move,” said Kantcho Stoychev, an analyst with pollster Gallup International. “It also gives Borisov some legitimacy to stay in political life in the future, despite the violent police actions last night.”
Borisov has said the electricity distribution licence of central Europe’s largest listed company, Czech-based CEZ will be revoked, setting Bulgarian on a collision course with the Czech Republic, which owns 70 per cent of the company.
The Czech government has already stepped into a row between the company and Albania, which revoked the company’s licence last month. Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said Bulgaria’s move was highly politicised and asked for an explanation.
Since the onset of the debt crisis in 2009, more than of the EU countries have elected new governments.