* 50,000 demonstrate in Varna
* Protesters fail to unite behind single leader
* Elections due on May 12
By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA, March 3 Tens of thousands of Bulgarians
angry over poverty and corruption protested in more than a dozen
cities on Sunday, as a lack of clear support for any political
party mired the country in limbo days after the government was
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov quit along with his
centre-right government on Wednesday after two weeks of
sometimes violent protests. He remains in office until an
interim government is appointed, most likely next week, which
will take Bulgaria to elections due on May 12.
However Bulgarians are still struggling to unite behind a
single political leader or give voice to a clear set of demands.
Polls suggest neither Borisov's rightist GERB party nor the
opposition Socialist Party has enough support for an overall
majority, and whichever wins the election will have to try to
assemble a coalition to form a working government.
Thousands of people took to the streets of cities including
the capital Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Blagoevgrad, Ruse and Sliven
on Sunday - a national holiday that marks the 135th anniversary
of Bulgaria's liberation from Ottoman rule.
In the biggest rally, about 50,000 protested in the Black
Sea city of Varna, local media reported.
"It is obvious that the protesters are not united and this
could very quickly destroy the enthusiasm of the people," said
Georgi Trendafilov, a demonstrator in Sofia downtown.
Borisov was hospitalised with high blood pressure on Sunday
for a second time this week.
Following a three-day spell at hospital, doctors have
advised the former bodyguard and karate black belt to take full
rest and refrain from sports. The outgoing prime minister plays
for a third division soccer team, Vitosha Bistritsa.
Hospital officials said he was admitted with hypertension at
lunch time and it was too early to say when he would be
Six years after joining the European Union, Bulgaria trails
far behind other members. Its justice system is subject to
special monitoring by Brussels and it is excluded from the
passport-free Schengen zone because of other members' concerns
The country's public debt is one of the lowest in the bloc.
But business cartels, corruption and wages that are less than
half the EU average have kept many from feeling the benefit.
It also has the cheapest electricity costs in the EU but an
increase in prices since last July under an energy market
liberalisation has made it harder for Bulgarians to heat their
homes through a cold winter.
The demonstrations began with a handful of youngsters
protesting against high electricity bills. Eventually, hundreds
of thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets, angered by their
low living standards.
President Rosen Plevneliev said an interim government would
aim for stability by sticking to the 2013 budget, which foresees
a deficit of 1.3 percent of GDP, and implementing previous
commitments such as a 9 percent increase in pensions from April.
He also said he would set up a 35-member public council to
advise the interim government and represent the people's
interests. But consultations for the establishment of the
council at the presidency collapsed on Saturday.
Representatives of protesters, objecting to the inclusion of
some wealthy businessmen, walked out of the talks. They said
they could not "sit at the same table with those they were
"We are going out to fight until the end, we will not
negotiate with oligarchs," said Angel Slavchev, one of the
leaders of the demonstrations. A trade union leader also quit,
objecting to the composition of the council.
Earlier this week, Borisov dismissed the idea of a governing
national unity coalition.
Support for Borisov's rightist GERB party has fallen over
the last year, and it is now neck-and-neck with the opposition
Just before resigning, Borisov had proposed to cut
electricity prices by 8 percent and alarmed investors by saying
the government would revoke the distribution licence of the
Czech utility CEZ, risking a diplomatic row with the
Czech Republic and EU.
The energy regulator proposed a smaller, 6.4 percent cut on
Friday, a few days after CEZ and the other two distributors,
Austria's EVN and the Czech firm Energo-Pro,
said they had done nothing wrong.