Bulgaria parliament readies power price cuts to soothe anger

Wed Feb 27, 2013 3:02pm EST
 
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By Sam Cage and Angel Krasimirov

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian lawmakers moved to reverse power-price hikes on Wednesday after weeks of mass street protests over austerity measures that toppled the government.

The decision could undermine the low debt and deficit strategy the government needs to maintain confidence in its currency peg to the euro, a strategy designed to boost the competitiveness of the European Union's poorest member.

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, admitted to hospital with high blood pressure, quit on February 20 following two weeks of sometimes violent demonstrations by tens of thousands of protesters angry at rampant graft and low living standards.

"The situation is tragic. We need a radical change - people took to the streets due to total misery," said opposition leader Sergei Stanishev, whose Socialists (BSP) are running neck-and-neck in polls with Borisov's centre-right GERB.

Six years after joining the bloc, Bulgaria trails far behind other members. Its justice system is subject to special monitoring and it is excluded from the passport-free Schengen zone because of other members' concerns about corruption.

Many protesters are angry with Bulgaria's entire political class, causing more uncertainty over the outcome of early elections expected in May, and government concessions raise the risk of a widening deficit and market pressure.

The changes voted on by parliament allow regulators to change power prices more than the once a year currently allowed, and could pave the way for an eight percent cut from March.

That may not be enough to stop large demonstrations planned for the weekend.   Continued...

 
Outgoing Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov waves to supporters outside the parliament in Sofia February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov