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Bulgarian dies of self-immolation, protests intensify

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* Goranov becomes symbol for Bulgarian protesters

* Third man to set himself alight this year, second to die

* Protests force government to quit; election due in May

By Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov

SOFIA, March 4 (Reuters) - A Bulgarian protester who set himself on fire last month has died, the second fatality in nationwide rallies against high power bills and graft that have toppled a government and fuelled demands for political change.

Giving new impetus to daily demonstrations in their fourth week, Bulgarians prepared to stage memorial services for Plamen Goranov, a 36-year-old artist who set himself alight at the city hall in the Black Sea port of Varna on Feb. 20.

Goranov has become a symbol for the hundreds of thousands of protesters who first took to the streets last month in anger over high utility bills, triggering the right-of-centre cabinet's resignation and the calling of a new election in May.

Media and demonstrators have compared Goranov to Jan Palach, the Czech student who set himself on fire in 1969 in protest at the Soviet occupation of the former Czechoslovakia, and Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation triggered protests that spread across much of the Arab world.

Bulgarian activists with differing aims are pursuing issues ranging from nationalising power distributors and raising living standards to ending the persistent graft that has dogged governments since before the country joined the EU in 2007.

But they have no joint list of demands and have rejected an offer by President Plamen Plevnielev to include them in a public council overseeing the work of an interim government because they did not agree to the participation of wealthy businessmen.

On Monday, a citizen initiative called "The Eagle Bridge", after a span over Sofia's canal where the rallies began, said it would hold a conference on Saturday.

Protesters have also erected a few tents similar to those of Spain's "Indignants" and other "Occupy" movements in front of parliament, demanding changes in voting laws and a moratorium on fast bank foreclosures on those who cannot pay their debts.

But political analysts said it was unlikely the groups would be able to unite before the May election and could instead give support to parties on Bulgaria's political fringe.

"They say they detest political parties, they have too different and often contradicting demands, and I am afraid they lack intellectual backup," said political analyst Rumiana Kolarova, at Sofia University.

CANDLELIGHT MEMORIALS PLANNED

Polls suggest neither Boiko Borisov's rightist GERB party nor the opposition Socialist Party has enough support for an overall majority, which could lead to a political deadlock or an awkward coalition government.

Varna Navy Hospital director Ivaylo Vazharov told reporters on Monday that Goranov had died the previous evening after sustaining severe lung damage.

On Facebook, a group called "Plamen Goranov, the man who set himself on fire" said there would be candlelight memorials in Sofia and Varna and a new round of protests.

Goranov was a dark-haired mountain climber whose friends said he was holding a poster protesting against the mayor of Varna, Kiril Yordanov, when he died.

He was Bulgaria's third case of self-immolation and second fatality this year. On Feb. 18, a 26-year-old man died after he set himself on fire in central Veliko Tarnovo. And on Feb 26, a 53-year-old father of five, did so in the city of Radnevo. He is in hospital in critical condition.

All the cases were linked to protests over living standards - salaries average just 400 euros ($520) a month - which many here blame on rampant corruption between a political elite and business interests that stifle development and the rule of law.

The country of 7.3 million is ranked second to last in the EU by graft watchdog Transparency International and successive governments have repeatedly failed to jail senior officials for corruption or solve hundreds of high-profile contract killings that have plagued Sofia and other cities since the late 1990s.

Those issues have enraged protesters in Goranov's hometown of Varna, a city of 400,000 on the Black Sea coast. Some 50,000 people marched for the 22nd consecutive day on Sunday.

They have called for the resignation of Yordanov, a four-term mayor they accuse of having improper ties with a powerful group of businesses they say exerts control over the city.

Yordanov was not available for comment on Monday and has denied signing deals that benefit the companies.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130304/bulgarian-dies-self-immolation-protests-intensify