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Bulgarian government resigns amid protests

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov speaks in the Parliament in Sofia February 20, 2013.

Julia Lazarova/Reuters

Bulgaria's prime minister announced Wednesday the surprise resignation of his government after days of sometimes violent rallies, paving the way for early elections in the European Union's poorest member.

"It is the people who put us in power and we give it back to them today," Boyko Borisov told parliament.

"I will not participate in a government where the police beat up people or where threats for protests replace political dialogue. If the street wants to govern the country, let it do it."

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Elections were expected to take place in late April and in the meantime the president was expected to appoint a caretaker government of experts.

Bulgaria has been shaken over the past 10 days by protests that were first focused on soaring electricity prices but then grew into nationwide demonstrations against the right-wing government.

With the Bulgarian economy barely growing, voters are frustrated by what they see as his failure to clamp down on corruption and cronyism, as repeatedly demanded by Brussels.

After tens of thousands rallied on Sunday, violent clashes erupted on Monday and Tuesday night with running battles between demonstrators and protestors leaving 26 people injured.

Two men also reportedly set themselves on fire, one of whom -- who was mentally ill -- has died and the other was in hospital with 80-per cent burns.

Borisov had attempted to take the heat out of the crisis by announcing on Monday the sacking of the unpopular finance minister and on Tuesday saying he would revoke the licence of Czech electricity firm CEZ and lower electricity prices by 8.0 percent.

"There is nothing more we could do, we gave the maximum... I do not want to see blood on the streets again," the premier said Wednesday.

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Analysts have long said that people's empty cupboards were set to cause the once hugely popular Borisov -- a former firefighter, bodyguard and police chief -- to lose his sway with voters as the end of his government's term in July neared.

The average monthly wage is 400 euros and the typical pension 138 euros. Official unemployment is around 11.5 percent but unions say the real figure is 17 or 18 per cent.

Support for Borisov's right-wing GERB party has eroded to about 22 per cent, about the same as for the opposition Socialists, a recent Gallup poll showed.

Borisov's personal approval rating was also down to an unprecedented 29 percent, or as much as that of Socialist leader Sergey Stanishev.

Experts meanwhile were uncertain whether Borisov's resignation would be enough to assuage public anger.

"This move of Borisov aims to put out the fire of the protests. But we are yet to see if it will work," political analyst Rumyana Kolarova told state BNT radio.

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For Gallup analyst Kancho Stoychev, however, "the resignation was the only right move in the current situation."

Another analyst, Haralan Alexandrov, said that Borisov had "panicked" by quitting but that it was also a smart move, enabling him to stop losing any more support and run for a second term.

Parliament -- where GERB has a near majority of 117 lawmakers and support from a handful of independents -- was due to vote on the cabinet resignation on Thursday morning, speaker Tsetska Tsacheva said.

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