Bulgarians rally against political establishment

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied across Bulgaria on Sunday to denounce poor living standards and corruption plaguing the country, just days after the right-wing government was forced to resign.

More than 10,000 protesters marched in downtown Sofia under the slogan "End to illusions, civil action every day!"

They shouted "Mafia!" and "All parties out!" near parliament and the presidency, waving white-green-and-red Bulgarian flags.

President Rosen Plevneliev appeared briefly before the crowd but was greeted with boos and jeers.

He said he was willing to meet next week with trade unions and civil groups to hear their demands and seek a way out of the crisis that forced the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on Wednesday.

"What's the use of this financial stability when we are as poor as church mice," an 80-year-old pensioner told AFP at the rally in Sofia.

"I am fed up with the high bills and the low salaries, I am fed up with the corruption I see everywhere and the promises of the politicians that never materialise," added 50-year-old Mariana Rachkova, who is unemployed.

She said she was all the more angry as she had voted for Borisov's austerity-minded GERB party in 2009, believing "his promises that he will rid the country of the mafia".

"Borisov abdicated and the parliament will follow suit. But who will take us out of this chaos?" said Petar Ivanov as he attended the rally in Sofia.

Borisov's surprise resignation came after demonstrations turned violent, with several dozen people injured and two men setting themselves on fire. One of them died and the other remains in hospital in critical condition.

But despite his resignation, activists have vowed to continue with the protests.

"We need a total change of the system but the politicians will not let this happen," demonstrator Nikolina Koleva, a former state auditor, said.

She said she was sacked from her job for trying to denounce corruption.

The Black Sea city of Varna, where the nationwide daily rallies against high electricity bills and deepening poverty began two weeks ago, saw its largest demonstration on Sunday, local media reported.

Between 20,000 and 40,000 protesters blocked traffic along key boulevards in the city, calling for the resignation of mayor Kiril Yordanov and denouncing "the economic domination of the mobsters".

They burned an effigy outside the headquarters of the local electricity utility monopoly, Czech Energo-Pro.

About 3,000 protesters also gathered in the Black Sea city of Burgas and between 6,000 and 10,000 joined the demo in Bulgaria's second-largest city of Plovdiv in the south, media reports said.

Rallies were held in numerous other towns across the country.

The protests that have swept the European Union's poorest country over the past two weeks were sparked by anger over mounting electricity bills and frozen public wages. The average monthly salary in Bulgaria is 400 euros (534 dollars) and has not increased for years.

Activists who met at the weekend said they agreed on the need for constitutional changes with majority elections instead of the current proportional system and the possibility to sue and even sack lawmakers if they do not fulfil their duties.

They also demanded a moratorium on power bills, no value added tax on electricity and a review of all contracts on privatising the power sector.