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SOFIA (Reuters) - In one of Bulgaria's biggest anti-austerity rallies for years, thousands of people protested on Saturday against the government's handling of the weak economy and called on the cabinet to resign.
Supporters of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) filled the Alexander Nevsky square in front of Sofia's central Orthodox cathedral and called on the ruling GERB party to go.
"Our goal is to revive Bulgaria because the GERB's rule threw the country back decades," said BSP's leader Sergei Stanishev.
More than three years into its rule, the center-right government's popularity is at new lows due to budget cuts that have hurt domestic consumption and growth.
"We are here to express unhappiness with tough austerity measures and corruption," said Elena Todorova, a 54-year-old chemist. "The government should go, it's obvious that they cannot fix the country's problems."
Failure to boost living standards in the European Union's poorest member state have hit support for the GERB party, which faces elections next June.
In September people who disapproved of the government outnumbered its supporters for the first time since the cabinet took office in July 2009, a poll by Alpha Research showed.
While membership in the European Union has brought prosperity to many, it has also made it easier to emigrate, drawing young people out of the country, especially rural areas, and leaving behind an ever older and poorer population.
"We have to convince young people that they can build their future here, in Bulgaria," said Stanishev, who is also chairman of the Party of European Socialists.
With an average monthly wage of $460 and an average monthly pension of $176, Bulgaria is one of the countries worst affected by Europe's economic problems. The country's population dropped from 8.98 million in 1988 to 7.32 million in 2011.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Stephen Powell