* Goranov becomes symbol for Bulgarian protesters
* Third man to set himself alight this year, second to die
* Protests force government to quit; election due in May
By Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA, March 4 A Bulgarian protester who set
himself on fire last month has died, the second fatality in
nationwide rallies against high power bills and graft that have
toppled a government and fuelled demands for political change.
Giving new impetus to daily demonstrations in their fourth
week, Bulgarians prepared to stage memorial services for Plamen
Goranov, a 36-year-old artist who set himself alight at the city
hall in the Black Sea port of Varna on Feb. 20.
Goranov has become a symbol for the hundreds of thousands of
protesters who first took to the streets last month in anger
over high utility bills, triggering the right-of-centre
cabinet's resignation and the calling of a new election in May.
Media and demonstrators have compared Goranov to Jan Palach,
the Czech student who set himself on fire in 1969 in protest at
the Soviet occupation of the former Czechoslovakia, and Mohamed
Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation
triggered protests that spread across much of the Arab world.
Bulgarian activists with differing aims are pursuing issues
ranging from nationalising power distributors and raising living
standards to ending the persistent graft that has dogged
governments since before the country joined the EU in 2007.
But they have no joint list of demands and have rejected an
offer by President Plamen Plevnielev to include them in a public
council overseeing the work of an interim government because
they did not agree to the participation of wealthy businessmen.
On Monday, a citizen initiative called "The Eagle Bridge",
after a span over Sofia's canal where the rallies began, said it
would hold a conference on Saturday.
Protesters have also erected a few tents similar to those of
Spain's "Indignants" and other "Occupy" movements in front of
parliament, demanding changes in voting laws and a moratorium on
fast bank foreclosures on those who cannot pay their debts.
But political analysts said it was unlikely the groups would
be able to unite before the May election and could instead give
support to parties on Bulgaria's political fringe.
"They say they detest political parties, they have too
different and often contradicting demands, and I am afraid they
lack intellectual backup," said political analyst Rumiana
Kolarova, at Sofia University.
CANDLELIGHT MEMORIALS PLANNED
Polls suggest neither Boiko Borisov's rightist GERB party
nor the opposition Socialist Party has enough support for an
overall majority, which could lead to a political deadlock or an
awkward coalition government.
Varna Navy Hospital director Ivaylo Vazharov told reporters
on Monday that Goranov had died the previous evening after
sustaining severe lung damage.
On Facebook, a group called "Plamen Goranov, the man who set
himself on fire" said there would be candlelight memorials in
Sofia and Varna and a new round of protests.
Goranov was a dark-haired mountain climber whose friends
said he was holding a poster protesting against the mayor of
Varna, Kiril Yordanov, when he died.
He was Bulgaria's third case of self-immolation and second
fatality this year. On Feb. 18, a 26-year-old man died after he
set himself on fire in central Veliko Tarnovo. And on Feb 26, a
53-year-old father of five, did so in the city of Radnevo. He is
in hospital in critical condition.
All the cases were linked to protests over living standards
- salaries average just 400 euros ($520) a month - which many
here blame on rampant corruption between a political elite and
business interests that stifle development and the rule of law.
The country of 7.3 million is ranked second to last in the
EU by graft watchdog Transparency International and successive
governments have repeatedly failed to jail senior officials for
corruption or solve hundreds of high-profile contract killings
that have plagued Sofia and other cities since the late 1990s.
Those issues have enraged protesters in Goranov's hometown
of Varna, a city of 400,000 on the Black Sea coast. Some 50,000
people marched for the 22nd consecutive day on Sunday.
They have called for the resignation of Yordanov, a
four-term mayor they accuse of having improper ties with a
powerful group of businesses they say exerts control over the
Yordanov was not available for comment on Monday and has
denied signing deals that benefit the companies.