Bulgaria cuts power prices to appease protesters

Bulgaria's energy watchdog says it will lower electricity prices by up to five percent starting on Thursday, in a new bid to appease protesters calling for the government to step down.

The DKEVR state energy regulatory commission late Monday approved the price cut, which will come into effect on August 1, as the EU's poorest country continues to struggle against high bills, the commission said.

Last winter, high electricity bills sparked mass street protests against low living standards, growing poverty and unemployment, forcing out the previous conservative cabinet.

New protest rallies have called for the resignation of current technocrat Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski -- in office only since May.

To appease public anger, Oresharski's government has passed a package of social measures but the daily protests have continued -- for the 47th day on Tuesday -- and the electricity price cut was not expected to put an end to them.

Bulgarians pay about eight cents per kilowatt hour of electricity -- half of what consumers in wealthier EU countries pay their power utilities.

But incomes in the Balkan country are also just a fraction of the rest of the bloc, with monthly salaries averaging about 400 euros ($530) and pensions at 138 euros.

Slumping household consumption and meagre exports contributed to an overheating energy production sector this year, prompting authorities to curtail output, while deals on expensive green energy prevented utilities from lowering costs for consumers.

Under the new move, all clients of the three power utilities -- Austrian EVN, Czech CEZ and Energo-Pro -- will see daytime electricity costs reduced by up five percent and nighttime costs by up to about seven percent.