Bulgaria PM pledges power price cut to stop protests

Tue Feb 19, 2013 2:33pm EST
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By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boiko Borisov sought to calm protests on Tuesday by promising to slash electricity prices and punish foreign-owned power companies, setting Bulgaria on a collision course with EU partner the Czech Republic.

A day after sacking his finance minister, Borisov said the distribution license of central Europe's largest listed company, Czech-based CEZ will be revoked, and other firms fined after the latest round of increasingly violent protests.

But the moves did not defuse discontent over high energy costs, power monopolies and low living standards in the EU's poorest country, which holds parliamentary elections in July. Protesters also seek re-nationalization of power distributors.

Chanting "Mafia" and "Resign", thousands took to snowy streets in Sofia and at least 10 other cities despite Borisov's pledges.

In the capital, protesters clashed with police at a road junction, hurling fire crackers. Eight people were taken for medical treatment, a spokeswoman for the Sofia emergency hospital said.

"It is not just about the electricity, it is for Bulgaria," said Ludmila Manova, a protest organizer in Blagoevgrad, one of the main centers of demonstrations.

Austerity has felled governments around Europe but Borisov, a former bodyguard to Soviet-era dictator Todor Zhivkov, had seemed relatively immune until recent weeks, in part because he froze salaries and pensions rather than cutting them.

Bulgarians make 800 levs ($550) a month on average, while unemployment rose to a 10-month high 11.9 percent in January.   Continued...

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov speaks during a news conference in Sofia February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov