* Protesters oppose sale of ailing railway operator's cargo
* Third man who set himself on fire died
* Urge president to carry audit on all privatisation deals
By Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA, March 10 Hundreds of Bulgarian
anti-corruption demonstrators took to the streets for a fourth
straight Sunday, demanding a halt to the planned selloff of the
state railway's cargo unit and an audit of all privatisation
Street demonstrations brought down the centre-right
government of Boiko Borisov last month and have continued since
then, although numbers were smaller on Sunday, indicating
protests may be losing steam.
The Balkan country is headed towards early election on May
12 with Borisov's party and Socialists neck-to-neck in opinion
polls, making it likely that forming a government will be
difficult and political uncertainty will continue.
Early on Sunday a 53-year old father of five who set himself
on fire last month in desperation from poverty in the central
town of Radnevo died from his burns, becoming the third victim
of self-immolation since the protests started.
With average monthly salaries of just 400 euros ($520) and
pensions half of that, Bulgarians have the lowest living
standards in the EU. They blame consecutive governments for
doing too little to improve their lives and fight rampant crime
Waving national flags and chanting "Mafia" and "Let's get
our the state back" about 600 protesters blocked all railway
tracks at the central station in Sofia. About 1,000 people
blocked rail tracks in the Black Sea city of Varna.
"The deal should be put off until there is a working
government and parliament, so that the process be transparent
and citizens can exercise controls," said Ivailo Vasilev, one of
the organisers of the protest in Varna, referring to the planned
privatisation of the cargo unit of railway operator BDZ.
Bulgaria is awaiting binding bids for the sale of the unit
by March 12 in a deal estimated at about 100 million levs
($66.38 million). Proceeds will be used to ease BDZ's debts and
allow it to tap a new loan from the World Bank.
But protesters fear the sale could be corrupt and lead to
mass layoffs. They called on President Rosen Plevneliev, who is
to form an interim government next week, to carry out an audit
in all selloffs since the fall of communism two decades ago.
Dozens of people blocked the road to neighbouring Greece
near the city of Blagoevgrad in protest against high utility
bills and monopolies. Protests were held in at least 15 other
The outgoing government cut electricity prices by an average
of 7 percent and has launched a process to revoke the licence of
power distributor CEZ, but these steps have failed to
quell public discontent.
Plevneliev has pledged to appoint a technocrat caretaker
government that will maintain fiscal stability.
($1 = 1.5066 Bulgarian levs)
($1 = 0.7703 euros)
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Peter Graff)