Police Officers Protest across Bulgaria over Proposed Pay Cuts
Police offers took to the streets across Bulgaria on Wednesday, in a second night of protests against planned cuts in their social benefits as part of cost-saving measures in the 2016 budget draft.
A planned protest was scheduled for Wednesday evening, a day after thousands of officers demonstrated in what they described as spontaneous rallies. Both events have been met with reproach by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who said police officers' actions were "illegal".
The second demonstration occurred despite concessions announced by the government which eventually agreed not to cut in half the maximum amount of the one-off compensation paid upon retirement. However, the cabinet is determined to reduce the number of days officers have for paid leave to 20, down from 30. It is also adamant to abolish the principle of a 2% annual increase in remuneration.
Under current legislation members of the military and police force can retire earlier than employees in sectors not related to defence and security. Government plans include both military and police staff, but also fire fighters, along with all other groups of people employed by the ministries of interior and defense. The Defense Minister, however, believes cuts in his institution are redundant, with a recent program to slash spending having been implemented there.
Demonstrations were held in the central area of the capital Sofia, where traffic was severely disrupted, but also in the second-largest city Plovdiv, in the Black Sea ports of Varna and Burgas, and elsewhere across the country.
In Varna and Burgas, police officers were joined by prison workers, firefighters, and Defense Ministry staff.
In the Southern Bulgarian town of Stara Zagora, plain clothes police officers and armed forces staff marched jointly in a demonstration that had been coordinate with authorities, blocking a major thoroughfare.
Around 200 border police officers in the town of Svilengrad, near the border with Turkey, also gathered to rally in defense of their interests and the interests "of those who come after us", the BGNES news agency reported.
Numbers of protesters ranged between a few hundred and more than a thousand across Bulgarian towns and cities. Earlier, a union with the Interior Ministry estimated some 20 000 people would take part in the demonstration. There were fewer protesters in Sofia in Wednesday than at the spontaneous rally on Tuesday.
Throughout Wednesday, groups of police officers held smaller demonstrations all around the country. At several border crossings in Southern Bulgaria, protesters paralyzed traffic into and out of Bulgaria for 10-15 minutes in the afternoon.
A "counter-protest" was also organized by citizens in the capital Sofia who wanted to voice their dissent with police sealing off parts of Sofia's downtown area for a second night.
Several hundred people gathered near Orlov Most to urge the Interior Ministry's employees to focus on quantity instead of quality.
While police are not allowed to take part in demonstration under their institution's code of conduct, military officers cannot protest due to legal restrictions.
Unions maintain the protest is not motivated merely by financial issues, but also by the lack of predictability for people working at the Interior Ministry and the Defense Ministry. Especially in the former institution, they argue, endless budgetary and legislative initiatives disable employees to make long-term plans for their future, with lack of security over remuneration or working conditions.
But Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova maintains there is "no alternative" to reform at the Interior Ministry to improve efficiency.
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