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Bulgarian PM seeks to calm protests


Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov attempted Tuesday to ease public anger over electricity prices by announcing that Czech utility CEZ's licence would be withdrawn, after protests nationwide left 11 injured.

"CEZ's licence will be revoked by the end of the day," Borisov told a press conference. He said that two other utility firms, Energy-Pro of the Czech Republic and Austria's EVN, had already been fined.

Bulgaria has been shaken over the past week by protests that initially were about soaring electricity prices but which have turned into demonstrations against the government in general.

Late Monday between 1,500 and 2,000 people, according to an AFP reporter and local media, gathered in central Sofia, some of whom threw missiles at parliament buildings, smashing windows and clashing with riot police.

Eleven people including five policemen were injured and 11 demonstrators were taken into custody, Sofia police said. Demonstrations were also held in around a dozen other cities.

In the southern city of Plovdiv, Nova television reported that protestors torched four vehicles belonging to Austria's EVN. A spokesman for the company told AFP he could not confirm this.

On Sunday tens of thousands of people took to the streets, prompting Borisov on Monday to sack finance minister Simeon Djankov, a key proponent of unpopular austerity measures, in a government reshuffle.

"A revolutionary situation is emerging," political analyst Evgeny Daynov told Nova television Tuesday. "People refuse to be governed by a handful of monopolists and oligarchs."

The opposition Socialists meanwhile has demanded that elections be brought forward from their scheduled date of July and that Borisov should resign.

Borisov said Tuesday that an audit had found minor breaches of CEZ's licencing agreement, including longer-than-usual accounting periods and irregular voltage supplies.

Audits were also underway at EVN and Energo-Pro, he said.

"I will not become the person to nationalise anything in Bulgaria," Borisov said Tuesday, while also rejecting opposition calls to resign. "If I do this, the consequences will be catastrophic," he said.

Instead, Borisov said he would propose to the state energy regulator increasing the share of cheaper power from the country's sole nuclear power plant at Kozloduy in the energy mix for the domestic market.

This could lower electricity prices by as much as eight percent from March 1, Borisov said.

CEZ said Tuesday it would appeal the government decision. Bulgaria is the company's second biggest market after the Czech Republic itself, accounting for 9.9 percent of its 2011 revenues.

CEZ had invested some 1.7 billion leva (870 million euros, $1.2 billion) in its Bulgarian energy distribution business since acquiring it in 2005, the company said in a statement.

The EVN spokesman said meanwhile that a 13-percent price increase introduced in July -- but only felt this winter as customers turned on the heating -- was imposed by Bulgaria's energy regulator.