Bulgaria Church leader decries self-immolations

Bulgaria's Christian Orthodox Church leader, Patriarch Neophyte, decried on Thursday a recent wave of self-immolations and suicides after four people set themselves ablaze in the past month.

"Do not take your life under any circumstances. There are other ways to solve problems than through monstrous death," Neophyte was cited by the BTA state news agency as saying, after meeting with new caretaker premier Marin Raykov in the northern city of Ruse.

The patriarch urged people to "not fall prey to the lack of hope but seek strength in God."

Bulgaria was shaken over the past month by massive street rallies against growing poverty and unemployment that exacerbated people's perceptions of corruption and cronyism of the political elite.

Four men had set themselves on fire in the first self-immolations in Bulgaria in decades.

Three of them died and doctors were still fighting to save the life of the latest victim -- a 51-year-old metalsmith who set himself ablaze outside the presidency in Sofia on Wednesday.

The severely burned body of a 45-year-old woman was also found on Thursday in a park in the central city of Plovdiv with the initial probe again pointing to suicide, local prosecutors said.

Psychologists said poverty and despair were the reasons behind the self-immolations and an increasing number of suicides in the country.

Only one of the men who burned themselves -- 36-year-old Plamen Goranov -- had voiced any political demands before setting himself on fire in the Black Sea city of Varna on February 20.

Goranov's death turned him into a symbol of the weeks of anti-corruption rallies in the EU's poorest country that prompted the right-wing government to resign last month.

Bulgaria's Church, which condemns suicide, had also allowed a small religious service for Goranov in his native Varna.

About 80 percent of Bulgaria's population of 7.4 million are Christian Orthodox but the Church has been slow to play any significant role in society after being crippled by the communist regime that fell in 1989.