Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Bulgarians in utility bills protest

Protesters in Sofia block the traffic at main road juncture during a protest against higher electricity and heating bills in Bulgaria (AP)

Thousands of Bulgarians have clashed with police during a protest against rising electricity and heating bills.

The violence occurred in capital city Sofia when riot police struggled to keep demonstrators away from public buildings, but no injuries were immediately reported.

Large parts of the city centre remained blocked off for hours after demonstrators threw eggs and tomatoes at government buildings.

Similar rallies occurred in other cities across the country, with some temporarily blocking traffic on major highways.

Earlier, the protesters in Sofia burned their utility bills in public, accusing the government of failing to improve their falling living standards and demanding the expulsion of the three foreign-controlled power distributors that control the local market: CEZ and Energo-Pro from the Czech Republic, and Austria's EVN.

In January, Albania revoked the license of CEZ and announced that electricity distribution would return to government control, but experts in Bulgaria have expressed doubt the government can legally do that.

Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, is the bloc's poorest member country, with an average monthly salary of 360 euro (£310) and an average pension of 150 euro (£129).

The ruling centre-right party of prime minister Boiko Borisov, which won parliamentary elections in 2009, has been steadily losing public support in the wake of the country's worst economic downturn in a decade.

Elections in July are expected to be a close race between the incumbents and the opposition socialist party.

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