Bulgarian PM defies protesters' calls to resign

Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski on Sunday defied calls to resign from thousands of protesters still angry over his controversial appointment of the country's top security chief, even though he reversed the decision.

About 15,000 protesters gathered outside the government headquarters in downtown Sofia on Sunday evening, according to police estimates. Smaller protests were also held in a handful of other cities.

Many were waving Bulgarian flags and shouting "Mafia!", "Resign!", and "Red garbage!" in what amounted to the biggest rallies in the past three days.

"Tabling a resignation now would be an easy personal decision but an extremely irresponsible one due to the danger of new destabilisation in the country," Oresharski said in a statement.

Oresharski warned Sunday the renewed political crisis might jeopardise Bulgaria's negotiations for EU aid between 2014 and 2020 and cost the newcomer billions of euros in lost subsidies.

Quitting now would also mean a deepening of the economic and social crisis, he said as Bulgaria -- the EU's poorest country -- battled deepening poverty, rising unemployment and falling living standards.

The premier invited 19 prominent think tanks, which had opposed the security chief appointment, for talks on Monday on exiting the crisis and finding a new publicly acceptable head for the powerful national security agency DANS.

Oresharski's decision to appoint 32-year-old media mogul Delyan Peevski as chief of DANS and parliament's rapidity in rubber stamping the nomination had angered the population.

Thousands poured into the streets in protest, demanding Oresharski's resignation and sparking fears of a fresh political crisis just months after anti-poverty and anti-corruption demonstrations brought down the previous government.

President Rosen Plevneliev demanded on Friday an immediate review of the controversial appointment, saying he had lost confidence in the government.

Peevski on Saturday offered to step down from the post and Oresharski said he accepted the resignation. It is expected to be withdrawn by parliament next Wednesday.

But protesters were not appeased.

Many prominent public figures such as actors, journalists, political analysts and company managers joined the protests.

They marched to parliament later Sunday evening and left a huge slogan reading "They robbed Bulgaria" there before moving on to block traffic across the key downtown Eagles bridge -- the symbolic site of this winter's first rallies.

Georgy Milanov, a 50-year-old doctor, who was at Sunday's rally in Sofia with his wife, told AFP: "We came to show the political class that things can no longer continue like that -- the rich get richer while the middle class like us is being erased."

"This government was put forward as a technocrat one. We expected change. And now it's the same old faces selling us the same old tricks. This last DANS chief nomination was just disgusting," he added.

Another protester, a 29-year-old advertising company executive, who refused to give her name, said: "The government is inadequate and must go. How could they even think they can put somebody like Peevski -- with his total control of most Bulgarian media and his dirty money -- as top security chief?"

Peevski, who has no experience in the security sector, is a lawmaker from the Turkish minority MRF party, which is a key supporter of the two-week-old government.

He is however a controversial figure due to his outsize role in Bulgaria's media landscape. He is understood to be behind an empire of newspapers, newspaper distribution companies, television channels and news websites, although they are officially owned by his mother, Irena Krasteva.