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Bulgarian PM sacks finance minister after protests

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov sacked Finance Minister Simeon Djankov on Monday in the wake of massive protests over the past week that erroded support for the right-wing government.

"Prime Minister Boyko Borisov will propose to parliament to dismiss Simeon Djankov as deputy prime minister and minister of finance," the government press office said.

Regional Development Minister Lilyana Pavlova, Borisov's most popular cabinet member with 30-percent support according to the latest Gallup opinion poll, will be proposed to step up as vice premier, it added.

The finance portfolio will meanwhile go to the current EU Fund Management Minister Tomislav Donchev, who garnered 18-percent support in the poll, compared to Djankov's 11 percent.

The government reshuffle comes just a day after tens of thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets on Sunday in one of their largest shows of anger in recent years.

The demonstrations, which started as a protest against high January electricity bills in the EU's poorest country, grew into massive discontent against growing poverty and the government's inability to curb widespread favouritism and corruption and do away with monopolies.

The protests come just five months ahead of the next general elections in July, erroding the popularity ratings of Borisov's right-wing government, which now garners 22 percent support, or as much as the opposition Socialists.

The government and Djankov personally have prided themselves in steering Bulgaria through the turbulence of the international financial crisis without major shocks to the small Balkan country's macroeconomic stability.

Yet, Bulgarians remained the poorest Europeans with utility bills and food expenses accounting for most of people's incomes.

The average monthly salary in the country ranges around 400 euros ($534), while the average monthly pension barely reaches 138 euros ($184).

Bulgaria's three electricity utilities -- Czech CEZ and Energo-Pro and Austria's EVN -- have promised to review the issue of the rising bills, while the government ordered financial audits in the firms.

Djankov however dismissed the protesters' calls for re-nationalisation of the power firms, telling state BNT television last week that this was not possible in an EU member state.

The former World Bank economist has already drawn ire from various sectors as well as from his colleagues in the government over his efforts to tie the government's purse strings.

He nearly avoided a sacking in end-2011 over his open criticism of the politics of Farming Minister Miroslav Naydenov. Delayed farming subsidies again fed rumours last week that he will be dismissed.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130218/bulgarian-pm-sacks-finance-minister-after-protests