Bulgarian PM vows transparency on security chief issue

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's prime minister pledged on Monday to seek wide public support in picking a new head of state security after street protests forced the two-week old Socialist-led government to ditch its original candidate.

Thousands of Bulgarians rallied to demand the government's resignation after it named a powerful media figure to the highly sensitive post without debate, a move critics said showed the lack of transparency in the European Union's poorest country.

The government reversed its appointment of Delyan Peevski, a lawmaker with no experience in the security field, on Saturday.

"The new candidate... will be carefully discussed. I'll take the necessary measures so that the candidate wins public support," Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski told a meeting with non-government organizations backing the protests.

Protesters who want the government to step down planned further rallies later on Monday in the capital Sofia and other cities, but Oresharski reiterated he would not quit because this could destabilize the country and hurt its struggling economy.

"A government cannot exist if parliament groups withdraw support. Public attitudes are something that can be worked upon and through its work the government can prove that it is defending the public interest," Oresharski told BTV television.

Oresharski's government, backed by the Socialists and the ethnic Turkish MRF grouping, is one seat short of a parliamentary majority and relies on the passive support of a small nationalist party.


More than two decades after the fall of communism, Bulgarians are deeply frustrated with their politicians' failure to combat rampant corruption and organized crime, which deter badly needed investment and keep living standards low.

Bulgaria ranks as the second most corrupt country in the EU after Greece, according to Transparency International. With average monthly salaries of 400 euros and pensions half of that, Bulgarians are the poorest in the 27-nation bloc.

Street protests against costly utility bills and graft toppled Bulgaria's previous center-right government in February.

Political analysts had branded Peevski's appointment another example of Bulgaria subjecting state institutions to private interests. The head of state security has access to all kind of intelligence data including on organized crime and graft in the NATO member state.

Analysts have repeatedly said communist-era secret service officers still wield sway over the small Balkan country's economy, fostering links between corrupt politicians and shadowy businesses.

Bulgarian media said Peevski stood behind a powerful network of national newspapers and television channels owned by his mother and which had been previously criticized for concentrating media ownership in the hands of a few.

Parliament is expected to dismiss Peevski on Wednesday.

President Rosen Plevneliev, who had harshly criticized Peevski's appointment, said the issue would be on the agenda of a special sitting on Thursday of Bulgaria's security council that groups the president, ministers and party leaders.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)