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Embattled Bulgaria PM urges calm, says ready for talks


Embattled Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski on Thursday urged protesters demanding his resignation to refrain from violence, two days after stone-throwing demonstrators trapped lawmakers inside parliament for hours.

Speaking after protesters marched through the streets of the capital for a 41st straight evening Wednesday, the premier -- who has been criticised as keeping silent on the protests -- urged "consensus to find a way out of the crisis" and said he was "determined to seek public agreement and dialogue".

"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 released by his office.

He said peaceful protests had given way to "open acts of vandalism, street barricades, physical clashes and provocation of the law enforcement authorities".

The non-partisan premier, whose minority cabinet took office in late May backed by the Socialists and the Turkish minority MRF party, has come under massive pressure to resign by thousands of Bulgarians pressing for a new snap election and critical of the country's political class, condemned as corrupt and beholden to oligarchs.

The rallies had been peaceful until tensions flared overnight Tuesday, when protesters besieged the parliament building in downtown Sofia, trapping inside 109 ministers, lawmakers, journalists, staff and other officials.

More than 20 people, including five police, were injured in skirmishes between shielded riot police and stone-throwing demonstrators, who were only dispersed shortly before daybreak Wednesday.

Oresharski, a stern economist, is usually rather laconic on political issues and had previously kept mum on the incident, which enraged people further and drew criticism from political analysts.

"He did not even show up! If this is the man supposed to lead the nation, he must have the dignity and guts to come out and speak to these people, who want justice," 72-year-old artist Ani Ralcheva said at a rally Wednesday evening.

"Bulgaria does not have a prime minister. In this critical moment Plamen Oresharski did not say a word and did not do a thing. He left a large absence," political analyst Ivan Krastev of the Centre for Liberal Studies wrote in the Trud daily newspaper Thursday.

"There is a total crisis of trust in political class and state institutions. The big question is not if there will be early elections but when," he added.

The latest protests have amplified already existing political turbulence in the European Union's poorest country.

The current cabinet has only been in office since snap elections on May 12.

Anti-poverty rallies last winter had seen eight people set themselves on fire, six of whom died, forcing the rightwing administration of tough-guy premier Boyko Borisov to resign in February.

Oresharski has so far resisted demands to step down and call yet another round of elections, saying it would exacerbate the crisis and further damage the fragile economy.