Bulgarian protesters say they will set up tent camp until demands are met

Thousands of protesters turned out in Sofia and other major cities in Bulgaria on March 3, with organisers announcing that they intend setting up a protest camp outside the President’s office (others said the location would be Parliament) on March 4, to remain there until their demands are met.

These demands are the convening of a Grand National Assembly, changes to electoral laws to provide for direct representation of citizenry from outside political parties and a moratorium on foreclosures by banks.

As people marched in Sofia, new demands were heard, in addition to those on the list handed to President Rossen Plevneliev at a protest on February 24. This, in turn, comes against a background of a “round table” of leaders of protests that met in Sofia on March 2, which failed to come close to consensus on demands.

The weeks of protests in Bulgaria began as a campaign based on anger at high electricity bills and directed at the expulsion from the country of foreign-owned electricity distribution companies.

As protests grew, Boiko Borissov vowed to stay the distance as prime minister until scheduled elections in mid-year, but when there was a violent incident in central Sofia when protesters and riot police clashed violently, Borissov announced that his government was resigning. Once various procedures set out in the constitution are fulfilled, this means the formation of a caretaker government, and early elections, announced by Plevneliev for May 12 2013.

Plevneliev held the first meeting on March 1 of the “public council” that he is putting together to provide input on policy to caretaker ministers, but the event was wracked by dissension and walkouts by some of the protesters and one trade union leader, objecting to the presence of “oligarchs” at the meeting.

The March 3 protest had, by the time it returned to Parliament at about 5pm in Sofia, passed largely without dramatic incidents, barring Eagles Bridge again being blockaded for some time.

A “national protest conference” has been scheduled for March 9 at the Arena Armeec sports hall in the Bulgarian capital city.

Local media said that in Bulgaria’s second city Plovdiv, several thousand people marched on the building of energy distribution company EVN. There was an incident when organisers argued among themselves, with coffee reportedly being thrown at a self-proclaimed organiser, Pavel Ivanov, though bystanders intervened to calm the situation.

In Plovdiv, chants by protesters included calls for the mayor to resign.

More than 10 000 people turned out in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna. Also largely a peaceful event, there was an incident when pharmaceutical chain owner and local politician Veselin Mareshki tried to associate himself with the protest but found himself the subject of shouts to go away.

In Varna, local politics got slightly more complicated when, on March 3, it emerged that Borissov’s party GERB had distanced itself from the city’s mayor, Kiril Yordanov. Long Varna’s first citizen as the candidate of the socialist party and then as an independent, in the 2011 elections Yordanov stood on a GERB ticket.

After the resignation of the government, protesters in major cities have been targeting local mayors with calls for resignation, especially if these mayors are associated with GERB.

Meanwhile, on the afternoon of March 3, Sofia was not entirely a city seized by politics. With sunny weather and relatively warm temperatures heralding spring, central Vitosha Boulevard saw pavement coffee shops full and elsewhere in the city, once protesters had passed by, people with children and babies in strollers were perambulating the capital.

Here and there, in the afternoon, teenagers, the middle-aged and the elderly were wandering around with national flags – perhaps because of the national day of Bulgaria on March 3, perhaps not. Once people are away from the slogans and high emotions of the protests, it is difficult to tell if someone strolling with a national flag is a protester or simply a patriot.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)





The Sofia Globe staff

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