Bulgarian government resigns after street protests

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announced his resignation after street protests by tens of thousands of Bulgarians against electricity price hikes

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Protests in Bulgaria started a week ago, with people unhappy about big rises in electricity prices in the European Union’s poorest member.

Electricity bills for January were double those in December, with taxes for maintenance and distribution exceeding the price of energy actually consumed by 120% in some cases, according to various media reports. The minimum wage in Bulgaria is 130 euros ($174) per month.

Many people signed petitions against monopolies in the power sector, which they plan to send to Brussels.

Towards the end of last month, the European Commission referred Bulgaria, Estonia and the UK to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to transpose fully the EU internal energy market rules in domestic legislation, which they should have done by March 3, 2011.

The European Commission says the legislation includes new rules on unbundling of networks, strengthening the independence and powers of national regulations and on improving the functioning of energy retail markets to benefit consumers.

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Borisov – a former bodyguard to Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s communist dictator – on Monday sacked Finance Minister Simeon Djankov, who initiated an austerity programme, in the hope that the move would quell public anger.

He also promised to cut electricity prices and cancel the license of Czech power distributor CEZ, which has a monopoly on electricity distribution in Western Bulgaria, but protests continued, with many Bulgarians asking for his own resignation.

CEZ, which entered Bulgaria’s energy market in 2005 before the country became an EU member, said it has invested nearly 900 million euros in the country since then.

Protesters accused politicians of corruption and having ties with crime, with many chanting “mafia”. They also chanted “Djankov left, now it’s Borisov’s turn.”

They clashed with police in the capital Sofia on Tuesday, when 15 people were injured.

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