FT: Bulgaria PM to Step Down amid Protests
By Neil Buckley in London and Theodor Troev in Sofia
The Financial Times
Bulgaria's prime minister said on Wednesday that his centre-right government would resign amid nationwide social protests.
Boiko Borisov told parliament he would hand in his resignation after the regular Cabinet meeting later in the day.
The move comes after tens of thousands of protesters across the EU country hit the streets and accused the government of failing to improve falling living standards. The protest in the capital, Sofia, last night turned violent as police in riot gear clashed with protesters, leaving 14 people injured.
Mr Borisov pledged on Tuesday to cut electricity prices in an attempt to halt the escalation of anti-government protests that had already claimed the scalp of the finance minister.
The protests, sparked by rising energy prices, also threatened to cause a diplomatic spat as the prime minister said he would revoke the licence of CEZ, the Czech state-controlled utility that supplies power to 2m Bulgarians. Prague called the move "very alarming".
Monday's sacking of Simeon Djankov, the finance minister, praised internationally for preserving fiscal stability but deeply unpopular at home, failed to quell three days of protests by tens of thousands in more than 20 cities across Bulgaria.
The protests, months ahead of parliamentary elections in July, were among the largest in Bulgaria since the collapse of communism more than two decades ago. Venting their anger over high electricity bills, protesters demanded the government's resignation and renationalisation of power distributors.
In clashes between demonstrators and riot police in Sofia on Monday night that went on for four hours, police said 11 people had been detained and six patrol cars damaged.
Bulgaria, unlike neighbouring Greece, Serbia and Romania, has managed without an international bailout. But it has seen only a weak recovery after a deep recession in 2009, and remains the EU's poorest country.
The popularity of Mr Borisov's centre-right government had fallen sharply in recent months, and rising power prices appear to have brought resentment over economic stagnation and low wages to the surface.
Breaking a three-day public silence at a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Borisov had vowed to complete the remaining four months of his term.
Mr Borisov said that three power distributors had been fined for undisclosed violations, but that he was against their renationalisation. He said electricity prices would be cut 8 per cent on March 1, if the country's energy regulator approved the plan.
CEZ could be stripped of its licence because of what prosecutors said were "systematic irregularities" in its work. Delyan Dobrev, energy minister, had recently accused the company of granting 80 per cent of its orders to companies without signing contracts or holding contests.
But the Czech utility said it had fulfilled all its regulatory duties in Bulgaria, and followed public procurement rules. "[We] categorically deny any wrongdoing that could theoretically lead to the starting of a procedure for revoking our licence," a spokeswoman said.
In Prague, Czech prime minister Petr Necas said talk of revoking CEZ's licence in Bulgaria was politically motivated and demanded to know the reasons.
"I perceive the whole problem as strongly politicised because of upcoming parliamentary elections," Mr Necas said.
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