Nuclear plant U-turn hits support for Bulgaria's ruling party

SOFIA Fri Feb 15, 2013 4:28am EST

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boiko Borisov arrives at the EU council headquarters for an European Union leaders summit meeting to discuss the European Union's long-term budget in Brussels February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boiko Borisov arrives at the EU council headquarters for an European Union leaders summit meeting to discuss the European Union's long-term budget in Brussels February 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Vidal

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SOFIA (Reuters) - Support for Bulgaria's opposition Socialists rose further in February, narrowing the lead of the ruling GERB party following the government's U-turn on the Belene nuclear power project, a Gallup International poll showed on Friday.

Backing for the center-right GERB led by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov was 22.6 percent in February, down from 23.8 percent in January, while support for the Socialists, who led the previous government, jumped to 22.1 percent.

Support for the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) was 19.7 percent a month ago. Bulgaria will hold parliamentary elections on July 7.

GERB suffered a major blow last month when 60.6 percent of the Bulgarians who voted in the country's first referendum since the fall of communism backed building the Belene plant on the Danube river, hoping it would create jobs and cut power bills.

Last March, the government abandoned the multi-billion dollar project, saying the Balkan state could not afford the cost estimated to be more than 10 billion euros ($13.34 billion)after failing to attract Western investors.

Delayed reforms, low incomes and lack of decisive steps to uproot widespread cronyism and corruption have hurt GERB's popularity. Bulgaria's unemployment rate hit 11.4 percent its highest since last March.

Gallup said its poll, conducted between January 31 and February 7, was completed before the start of recent protests against high electricity bills. On Friday, Bulgarians took to the streets in several cities for a seventh day in a row.

Bulgaria's economic stability in recent years has come at the expense of low living standards in the country, where the average monthly pension is $176 and the average salary $460.

Support for the ethnic Turkish MRF party rose fractionally to 7.3 percent in February from 7.0 percent a month earlier.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov)

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