Embattled Bulgaria PM sorry for 'mistake'

Bulgaria's embattled new prime minister apologised Wednesday for the "mistake" that has sparked five straight days of protests and plunged the EU's poorest country into fresh political turmoil.

In a bid to ease the crisis, Plamen Oresharski, in office for three weeks, also rushed through parliament a package of measures aimed at easing poverty and repairing battered trust in democracy.

"I made a political mistake and I apologise not only to you but to all the people who came out to protest," Oresharski told parliament, again however rejecting calls to step down.

He was referring to his appointment last week of a media mogul as head of the powerful state agency for national security DANS, which on Friday sent thousands of Bulgarians out onto the streets.

Even after Oresharski said Peevski's appointment would be withdrawn, the protests grew ever larger, with demonstrators calling over the weekend and on Tuesday evening for the new government to throw in the towel. More demonstrations were expected later Wednesday.

The protests come just four months after nationwide demonstrations against rising poverty, corruption and high utility bills forced the previous conservative government to resign.

Installed as the technocrat, non-partisan head of a Socialist-backed government following elections last month, Oresharski on Wednesday attempted to appease the protesters with a raft of reforms.

"Today I stand before all Bulgarian citizens and the members of parliament to ask for your temporary support for an urgent package of stabilisation and emergency measures for improving the lot of the Bulgarian people, the business environment and the democratisation of governance," Oresharski told parliament.

The measures, approved by 117 votes to one abstention -- the opposition conservatives were absent, boycotting parliament since Tuesday -- include heating subsidies, a cap on utility prices, and higher maternity leave allowances.

Oresharski also added new items to those already announced, including higher pensions and salaries for civil servants.

The prime minister reiterated that a resignation of his government would only worsen the former communist country's economic and social woes.

"It is extremely important to maintain civil peace in the name of the stabilisation of the state," he said.

But fresh protests are planned for a sixth day, even though protesters themselves believe that little will change even if the current government were to resign and fresh elections were called.

Nevertheless they were rallying for changes in the electoral system, fresh faces in politics and to do away with an establishment viewed as corrupt and controlled by powerful business interests.

"Carving out a new electoral code so that the country will be better prepared to organise more democratic elections next time is high on the (cabinet's) agenda," Oresharski promised Wednesday.

"It is not a secret for anyone that the whole state, all institutions are gnawed through by private economic interests behind the scenes," Socialist party leader Sergey Stanishev said in parliament.

He vowed to "start a process of healing, cleansing of Bulgaria's economic and political life" under Oresharski.

The 53-year-old Oresharski, whose government is backed by the Socialists and the Turkish ethnic minority party MRF, also vowed to slash red tape for businesses and encourage entrepreneurship.