Bulgarian leftists call for help on power bills

Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:08am EST

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* Socialists want power price cuts, support pension hike

* Protests continue even though government resigned

* President to name interim government next week

By Angel Krasimirov

SOFIA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's leftist opposition called on Tuesday for the quick formation of a caretaker government to raise pensions and cut power bills to help the Balkan country's poorest people.

The centre-right government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov resigned last week amid nationwide protests against high power bills in the European Union's poorest member.

But the resignation failed to quell public discontent with low wages and pensions and a discredited political elite, and tens of thousands marched though Bulgarian cities on Sunday, with smaller protests continuing this week.

"We need a government that solves people's problems," Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader Sergei Stanishev told a news conference. "It should take urgent measures to stabilise the financial situation in the country."

Borisov's departure has failed to calm voters fed up with low living standards and rampant graft, and his GERB party is now running neck-and-neck with the BSP. With both at around 22 to 23 percent support, neither is expected to win a majority in a probable early election.

The president - a political ally of Borisov, though he has to maintain a neutral position - is expected to name an interim technocrat administration next week with the aim of maintaining fiscal stability and a currency peg to the euro.

The BSP, which was voted out of office in 2009 as the economy crashed and budget gap ballooned, wants power price cuts and three months' leeway for unpaid bills, Stanishev said.

The party also called for funds to help poorer people pay their energy bills, due to be paid later this year, to be disbursed immediately. It supported a planned increase in pensions by an average of 9.3 percent from April, said Stanishev, who was prime minister from 2005-2009.

GERB also risked a diplomatic row with the Czech Republic and EU by threatening to withdraw the licence of CEZ, one of three electricity producers along with another Czech company, Energo-Pro, and Austria's EVN.

Protesters set an EVN office on fire on Monday night in the second largest city of Plovdiv.

The rightist GERB and BSP have both declined to try to form a government in this parliament, meaning an election will almost certainly be brought forward from the currently planned July.

Borisov - a former bodyguard who was seeking to become the first premier since the 1989 fall of communism to win a second term - managed to maintain fiscal stability since taking power in 2009 but belt-tightening has held back growth and driven up unemployment.

The Balkan state's economy is only edging back from a deep recession and is expected to grow 1.9 percent in 2013, hit by poor demand for exports in the euro zone. (Editing by Sam Cage and Alison Williams)

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