Bulgarian president to launch talks with parties over protests

SOFIA Mon Jun 24, 2013 11:58am EDT

1 of 3. Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration in central Sofia June 23, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stoyan Nenov

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SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's president said on Monday he would hold talks with all political parties on how to bring an end to protest rallies against graft and organized crime that have paralyzed politics in the Black Sea nation for more than a week.

Thousands of mainly younger Bulgarians have been staging daily rallies in Sofia and other cities demanding the resignation of the three-week-old Socialist-led government over its bungled bid to impose a media mogul as head of national security without debate.

Bowing to the protesters, parliament quickly rescinded the appointment and Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski apologized, but he has refused to quit, saying this would destabilize the European Union's poorest member state and harm its economy.

President Rosen Plevneliev, whose office is largely ceremonial but carries moral weight, has praised the peaceful, good-natured protests as a positive sign of Bulgarian democracy and has urged the politicians to heed the calls for reform.

"I will hold consultations with the political parties represented in the parliament. It will take a few days," Plevneliev told reporters.

"I will certainly enlarge the focus of my consultations and I hope I will hear a lot of representatives of other political parties by the end of the week," he said.

"I expect clear commitments to be taken. I will do everything possible to find a solution."

More than two decades after the fall of communism, Bulgarians are fuming over their politicians' continued failure to tackle graft and organized crime, which deter investment and keep living standards low.

Street protests felled the centre-right cabinet of Boiko Borisov in February, paving the way for May's snap election in which his GERB party won most votes but lacked allies to form a government.

The Socialists and the ethnic Turkish MRF party, which placed second and third respectively in the election, then managed to form a fragile coalition that needs the passive support of a small nationalist party to stay in power.

DEMANDS

But the coalition's naming of MRF deputy Delyan Peevski, aged 32 and with no experience of security issues, to head the national security service triggered fury among Bulgarians long disgusted by murky ties between politicians and businessmen.

Bulgarian media say Peevski stands behind a powerful network of newspapers and television channels owned by his mother and which has been criticized for concentrating media ownership in the hands of a few.

As well as the cabinet's resignation, the protesters want to revise the election code to allow newer parties to challenge the status quo. They also want to review existing laws to prevent powerful business groups receiving public funds, to boost media freedoms and to improve the independence of the courts.

Reinforcing the mood of protest, 60 prominent Bulgarian intellectuals, lawyers, journalists and human rights activists posted on the Internet on Monday a "charter for disbanding the plutocratic model of the Bulgarian state" that calls for genuine democracy and the rule of law in the Balkan country.

On Monday, Oresharski tried to sound a conciliatory note.

"I fully understand people and their natural desire to live in a normal country. I am afraid this cannot happen immediately, we need systematic and consistent efforts in this direction," Oresharski, a non-partisan former finance minister, said.

"Presently, the Bulgarian state urgently needs solutions to key issues. We must find fast and efficient measures to solve the most painful problems for Bulgaria's people and business."

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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