Unfazed by premier’s quit, Bulgarians take to streets

Unfazed by premier’s quit, Bulgarians take to streets

Unfazed by premier’s quit, Bulgarians take to streets

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians shout slogans and wave Bulgarian national flags during a protest in Sofia against poverty and widespread corruption. AFP photo

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians rallied across the country yesterday, in the latest sign that the government’s resignation last month failed to calm public anger about poverty and corruption.

In the capital Sofia metal fences and a heavy police presence prevented protesters from reaching an official flag-raising ceremony for the national liberation day, which marks the 135th anniversary of Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman rule. But around 7,000 demonstrators, according to Agence France-Presse estimates, blocked traffic on several key boulevards for hours, waving white-green-and-red Bulgarian flags and shouting “Mafia!” Local media said that over 20,000 also gathered in the Black Sea city of Varna, where the initial protests against high electricity bills started last month, calling for the resignation of Mayor Kiril Yordanov.

Smaller protests were held in around a dozen other cities, gathering from several hundred to several thousand people, reports said. In Sofia, protesters carried slogans reading: “Anarchy against organized crime and the monopolies!” “The mobsters in jail!” and “People against the mafia.” Lawyer Ivan Hristov, who raised a “power to the people” slogan as the rally passed by the Parliament buildings, said protesters wanted more of a say in how the country was run.

‘Returning the state to the citizens day’

“We will rally outside Parliament on March 6 to demand changes to the elections code to give civil groups the same rights as those enjoyed by political parties,” he said.

Another protester group organized under the name “Eagles’ Bridge” have declared March 9 a day for “returning the state to the citizens,” Sofia News Agency reported. They are calling a national conference on the same date, and have announced the establishment of a permanent tent camp near the presidential administration building until their demands are met. Among these demands are the convening of a new grand general assembly, amending the election code, and issuing a moratorium on bank foreclosures and assets freezes. A major rally of supporters of the ultra-nationalist Ataka party was also expected in Sofia late yesterday.

Bulgaria has been rocked for three weeks by sometimes violent demonstrations over high electricity prices, deepening poverty, cronyism and corruption in the European Union’s poorest member state. The violent street rallies forced the surprise resignation on Feb. 20 of tough-guy Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s government five months before his term was due to expire, clearing the way for early elections on May 12.

“We have dignity and honor. It is the people who put us in power and we give it back to them today,” Borisov told Parliament, adding that he would not participate in an interim government.

Bulgaria has been shaken over the last month by protests that were initially about soaring electricity prices, but which have turned into nationwide demonstrations against the right wing government in general. The clashes left dozens of people wounded and scores were arrested, with demonstrators fighting running battles with police and vandalizing buildings in Sofia.