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Bulgarian leader offers meeting with protesters

Tuesday - 2/26/2013, 1:31pm  ET

VESELIN TOSHKOV
Associated Press

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) -- Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said Tuesday he is inviting representatives of widespread protests to meet with officials to seek solutions to a crisis which has already led the government to resign.

Following a meeting of the national security council, Plevneliev warned that compromise was needed.

"Some of the protester's demands are possible to fulfill, while other are not realistic," he said, without identifying specific demands.

Meanwhile, Parliament on Tuesday met to debate urgent legislation to make it possible to lower electricity prices, an issue at the root of continuing street protests and demands for radical political reforms.

"I guarantee that regardless of the situation the law and legal order in the country will be maintained," Plevneliev told reporters.

Protests in the capital, Sofia, and other major cities started two weeks ago against high utility bills and widespread poverty, but gradually grew into civil unrest challenging the established order.

Last week, clashes between police and protesters left two dozen people injured and prompted Prime Minister Boiko Borisov to announce that his center-right government was stepping down to enable early elections, expected in early May.

On Sunday, about 150,000 Bulgarians in more than 40 cities across the country took part in the nationwide protests -- the biggest since the country's financial meltdown in 1997.

Borisov, 54, was hospitalized on Monday with "very high blood pressure," and was in stable condition, hospital director Lyubomir Spasov said.

Despite the government's resignation, Plevneliev said Borisov's government is still responsible for dealing with the crisis until a caretaker government is appointed next week.

"The government, even if resigned, is fully responsible for the situation until the appointment of a new cabinet," Plevneliev said ahead of the security council meeting.

"Demands of the protesters are escalating. They have a great distrust of political parties," Plevneliev said before the council meeting. He said there was a "growing need to find appropriate tools to solve the crisis."

Meanwhile, Parliament voted on proposed amendments to regulatory legislation that would give ordinary citizens a voice on the agency that determines electricity rates. The changes are expected to become law on Wednesday.

Bulgarians are frustrated that the strict fiscal rules they have lived under in the last decade have not paid off in a growing economy and their standard of living has dropped.

"What good is it that my country's budget is stable, when I cannot guarantee a decent life to my family?" said one of the protesters, Georgi Atanasov, a 49-year-old teacher.

For him and many other protesters, the solution is to replace the current political establishment because they believe it is corrupt. "What we need are new people, with a new moral," he said.

Two Bulgarian news agencies reported that a 53-year-old man set himself on fire Tuesday in the municipal building in the southern city of Radnevo. The reports said the man was taken to hospital with extensive burns. It was the third self-immolation reported in the country this month.

Asked to comment on the incident, Plevneliev said: "We are seriously concerned about it."


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