A man shouts slogans as people block the traffic during a
protest against high electricity bills in
Tens of thousands of Bulgarians have protested in more
than 20 cities against high electricity bills, piling pressure
on the government after a week of persistent demonstrations.
Protesters chanting "It will be the same every day until we
win", paralysed city centres and demanded the resignation of
the cabinet and the re-nationalisation of power distributors.
Demonstrators hurled eggs and bottles, burned their
electricity bills and attacked power firms' offices in cities
across the country.
Electricity prices are politically sensitive in the European
Union's poorest member since power bills bite off a big chunk
of monthly incomes, especially during the winter.
The ruling centre-right GERB party has seen its popularity
flag since last year with voters disgruntled by low incomes
and high bills.
Responding to Sunday's protests, Economy Minister Delyan
Dobrev told reporters: "In the coming days, we will take a
final decision on whether there are grounds for revoking the
licenses of the power distributors."
Bulgaria's power distribution market is divided into three
regions, controlled by Czech firms CEZ and Energo-Pro and
"We fully understand the anger of the people," CEZ Bulgaria's
vice-chairman Petr Baran told local media. "If needed, we
will pay compensations to our clients."
Many protesters said they had been overcharged in their
December bills and an avalanche of complaints has been lodged
with the power distributors.
"Each complaint will be carefully considered and checked,"
Baran added. "If there are mistakes, corrections will be
Sunday saw the biggest demonstrations in eight days of
protests. More than 2,000 people blocked the highway to
Greece near the southern town of Dupnitsa and in the capital
Sofia protesters blocked traffic on the famous Eagles'
"We cannot stand it anymore," said Penka Slavova, a
pensioner. "My pension is 155 levs ($110) and my December
bill was 175 levs. What should I do?"
In one of the biggest rallies, more than 10,000 people
marched in Varna on the Danube River, where the national flag
had been lowered at the municipality in support of the
Local media reported that protesters clashed with police when
trying to reach the Sofia headquarters of CEZ and four
demonstrators were arrested.
LOW LIVING STANDARDS
Despite enjoying relative economic stability since the global
financial crisis erupted, Bulgarians face low living
standards compared to other EU members. Monthly pay averages
400 euros, just a fraction of the EU norm.
The government has said it will look into the issue of rising
electricity bills, but has ruled out the re-nationalisation
of power firms.
Support for Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's GERB party fell to
22.6 percent in February, down from 23.8 percent in January
due to delayed reforms, low incomes and a lack of action to
root out corruption. Unemployment is at a 10-month high.
Backing for the opposition Socialists, who said they would
consider re-nationalisation of the power distributors if they
win the parliamentary elections on July 7, rose to 22.1
"We should remember this date - February 17," said political
scientist Evgeniy Daynov of Sofia's New Bulgarian University.
"This is when the ruling GERB party died. This is a protest
against the oligarchic model of GERB rule, which is nothing
more than the plundering of the state to benefit the
Bulgaria has long been criticised for failing to liberalise
its highly monopolised electricity and gas distribution
markets in line with the EU rules.
In January, the European Commission referred the Balkan
state, Estonia and Britain to the European Court of Justice -
the highest EU court - after the three countries had only
partially transposed EU energy market directives.