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Embattled Bulgaria PM sidesteps election calls

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Bulgaria's embattled prime minister on Thursday dodged calls for fresh elections and appealed for calm, two days after stone-throwing demonstrators besieged parliament for hours and clashed with riot police.

"I am not a politician and I will not run in any elections, so do not ask me questions about elections," Plamen Oresharski, installed in late May as a non-partisan premier by the Socialist party, told journalists.

"It is up to the BSP (the Socialists), with whose mandate the cabinet was formed, to decide when its term will end -- tomorrow, in March or in four years," the dour 53-year-old said, adding that his focus was on reforming the economy.

Tuesday night's dramatic scenes, when some 2,000 protestors trapped around 100 ministers, MPs and others in parliament for eight hours before being dispersed by baton-wielding riot police, came after 40 days of anti-government protests.

Many in former communist Bulgaria, the poorest country in the European Union, are fed up with their politicians, seeing them as corrupt, inefficient and indifferent to the plight of ordinary people.

The current government emerged from elections on May 12, which were called after nationwide rallies that saw eight people set themselves on fire and felled the previous right-wing administration of Boyko Borisov in February.

Analysts say fresh elections may result in another hung parliament, further riling protesters, unless MPs move fast to pass electoral reforms to allow new, smaller parties to win seats -- a key demand of the demonstrators.

Oresharski earlier appealed for restraint and condemned the violence, which left at least 20 people hurt, slamming "open acts of vandalism, street barricades, physical clashes and provocation of the law enforcement authorities".

"I appeal to the citizens protesting in the name of democratic values to allow no more provocations and to draw a clear line between freedom and the right to express their opinions and the attempts to violate law and order," Oresharski said in a statement.

Political analyst Ivan Krastev of the Centre for Liberal Studies said that there is a "total crisis of trust in the political class and state institutions".

"Even if it stays in power, the cabinet will not be able to govern. The big question is not if there will be early elections but when," Krastev wrote in the Trud newspaper.

Heading a cabinet of technocrats put forward by the Socialists and also backed by the MRF Turkish minority party, Oresharski says that fresh elections would further damage the already fragile Bulgarian economy.

Illustrating the challenges, parliament on Thursday approved a revised 2013 budget that had to be rewritten to take into account big shortfalls in budget revenues and increased spending.

The economy is expected to grow by only one percent this year and Oresharski's government has had to hike its budget deficit forecast to 2.0 percent of output. It plans to issue up to 1.0 billion leva (511 million euros, $673 million) in new debt.

Borisov, meanwhile, whose GERB party had boycotted parliamentary sessions for a month, returned to the legislature Thursday but only to pile more pressure on the government.

"The only way out is early elections," the former bodyguard said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130725/embattled-bulgaria-pm-sidesteps-election-calls